U.S. soldier Manning could break silence as WikiLeaks trial nears end
* Manning's lawyers expected to read statement from soldier
* Manning made statement in February defending action
* Soldier faces up to 90 years in prison
By Ian Simpson
Aug 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, convicted of providing secret files to WikiLeaks in the biggest data breach in U.S. history, could break a long silence on Wednesday as the sentencing phase of his court-martial wraps up.
Manning, 25, faces up to 90 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 files, battle videos and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, a pro-transparency website.
Chief defense attorney David Coombs is expected to conclude his case for a lenient sentence on Wednesday after calling a dozen witnesses. Judge Colonel Denise Lind could sentence Manning immediately after the defense finishes at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Manning, a slightly built soldier, has said almost nothing since the trial began under an international spotlight on June 3. His attorneys kept him off the stand, and he has sat silently at their side, sometimes resting his chin on a fist.
The former junior intelligence analyst could end that silence on Wednesday when his attorneys read a statement to the court, a military spokesman said.
Its content is unknown. It would be the first time Manning has spoken publicly at length since late February, when he read a 10,000-word statement in a pre-trial hearing.
The Crescent, Oklahoma, native said then he had hoped to spark a public debate about U.S. foreign and military policy by releasing the data to WikiLeaks, while serving in Iraq.
The material that shocked many around the world was a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. A dozen people were killed, including two Reuters news staff, and WikiLeaks dubbed the footage "Collateral Murder."
Lind, the judge, convicted Manning of 20 charges, including espionage and theft, on July 30. He was found not guilty of the most serious count, aiding the enemy, which carried a life sentence.
Prosecutors argued that Manning was an arrogant soldier who aided al Qaeda militants and harmed the United States with the release of the documents.
His attorneys have countered that the Army ignored his mental health problems and violent outbursts and that computer security at Manning's base was lax. They contended that Manning, who is gay, was naive but well-intentioned and suffering from a sexual identity crisis in Iraq.
Manning, described by his superiors as an Internet expert, faces the prospect of decades of monotonous prison life - with no online access - once he is sentenced. He likely will serve his time at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Whatever Manning's sentence, Lind has reduced it by 112 days because of harsh treatment after his arrest in May 2010.
The trove of documents from Manning catapulted WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, into the world spotlight. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for more than a year to avoid sexual abuse allegations in Sweden. (Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)
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