WikiLeaks suspect Manning defers plea, court-martial begins

FORT MEADE, Maryland Fri Feb 24, 2012 8:22am EST

1 of 3. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning (R), in handcuffs, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland February 23, 2012. Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst accused of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, deferred pleading guilty or not guilty in a military court arraignment on Thursday, marking the first step in a court martial that could land him imprisonment for life.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Luis Magana

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FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, accused of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, deferred a plea in a military court arraignment on Thursday, marking the first step in a court-martial that could land him in prison for life.

In Thursday's procedure, Manning, 24, was formally charged with 22 counts including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet and theft of public property. Military prosecutors say Manning downloaded more than 700,000 classified or confidential documents and transferred thousands to WikiLeaks, which promotes leaking government and corporate information.

Manning's plea deferral allows his defense team time to strategize and see the outcome of several motions to be heard before the trial begins, which could be as late as August.

"It basically leaves their options open," said a legal expert with the Military District of Washington, the Army command unit for the capital region, who was present at the arraignment. The expert could not be named under rules imposed on media covering the proceedings.

When asked if he understood his rights to counsel, Manning, in a dark green military dress uniform and black-rimmed military glasses, spoke quickly but forcefully. "Yes, your honor," he said.

Manning's attorney, David Coombs, announced that Manning would defer his plea as well as a decision on whether to face trial by a military judge or a panel of military members, made up of senior officers or enlisted members of rank no lower than Manning's.

At the beginning of the arraignment, Manning entered from a back door and walked briskly to the front of the room. During the proceedings, he leaned forward on to a desk, occasionally conferring in whispers with Coombs.

Military prosecutors say Manning, trained on various intelligence systems, was a trusted analyst who knowingly and methodically downloaded thousands of files from the military's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, while serving in Iraq.

They sought to link Manning to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, introducing logs of web chats that an investigator said appeared to show conversations in which the two discuss sending government documents.

Manning's lawyers have cast him as an emotionally troubled young man whose behavioral problems should have prompted superiors to revoke his access to classified information.

Manning has gained a following of supporters who see him as a whistleblower who acted on behalf of his country. At the end of the arraignment one Manning supporter, a protester with the anti-war group Code Pink, stood up and yelled out, "Judge, isn't a soldier required to report a war crime?"

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (2)
geesam47 wrote:
Where is the trial of a Muslim America Army colonel who killed eleven U.S. soldiers in the U.S. two years ago?

Feb 24, 2012 7:18am EST  --  Report as abuse
Acetracy wrote:
Where as the actions of Bradley Manning led to regime changes in numerous dictatorships, some actually terrorist hotbeads – something the US Defense Department and State Department have spent years and billions trying to do.

Manning should be given a medal of honor for his bravery, not tried like a criminal.

I would suspect that his being gay doesn’t help his chance of a fair trial by the Military.

Wasn’t it just four years ago a CIA operative was outed by someone in the Whitehouse, exposing him and his contacts to attacks? Where are the trials for those involved in that leak?

Feb 24, 2012 3:37pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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