Bradley Manning back in court over Wikileaks charge

Pfc. Bradley Manning (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)
Accused Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning is back in court this week as a military judge in Ft. Meade, Maryland hears arguments from the defense during pretrial motion hearings.

Private First Class Bradley Manning is not expected to go to trial until later this year. In the meanwhile, though, attorney David Coombs is asking the US government to reassess some of the charges that they have filed against his client, a 24-year-old intelligence expert with the US Army that is accused of providing Julian Assange’s Wikileaks with thousands of diplomatic cables and other sensitive material.

After nearly two years behind bars in solitary confinement, Manning was only recently formally charged with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Coombs and supporters of the soldier argue, however, that the case against Manning is politically motivated and unjust and that the government gives alleged terrorists more freedom than the young serviceman.

In a blog post published days before this week’s hearings were set to begin, Coombs wrote, “Congress could not have intended to give terrorists a more protective mens rea than it gave to Soldiers,” referencing the legal term for a guilty state of mind used to test the criminal liability of a defendant. Coombs notes that the military wants to convict Manning if providing a third-party with sensitive material, but that, if that is true, Manning may not have necessarily known that it would be accessed by others after the initial transaction.

“In order to find the accused guilty of giving intelligence to the enemy through indirect means, you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had actual knowledge that he was giving intelligence to the enemy through the indirect means,” Coombs writes. “An accused has actual knowledge that he is giving intelligence to the enemy through indirect means only when he knowingly and intentionally provides intelligence to the enemy through the indirect means.”

To compare the legal plight of his own client with that of alleged terrorist, Coombs adds, “In a prosecution of a terrorist under Offense 26, the Government would be required to prove that the terrorist knowingly and intentionally aided the enemy.”

“It defies all logic to think that a terrorist would fare better in an American court for aiding the enemy than a US soldier would,” Coombs adds.

A separate investigation led by a special United Nations rapporteur has concluded that the degrading and humiliating tactics waged at Manning while held in solitary confinement is considered torture by the UN.

Coombs is also asking the court to reconsider their allegations that Manning “exceeded authorized access,” a charge he says is unmerited since it stems from accusations that Manning used his own computer in connection with the crime. The attorney also intends to argue against the court’s insistence that files published by Wikileaks harmed national security, without ever proving as such.

“Anything 'could' happen – the world 'could' end tomorrow; Kim Kardashian ‘could’ be elected president of the United States of America; I ‘could’ win the lottery. These are not the types of 'could' that l8 U.S.C. Section 793 contemplates. Therefore, the Defense should be able to probe whether the witness’s testimony that the information could cause damage to the United States is remote, speculative, far-fetched and fanciful by examining such witnesses on the fact that two years after the alleged leaks, the conclusion is still merely that the information ‘could’ cause damage – not that it ‘did’ cause damage,” Coombs writes.