FORT MEADE, MD (Reuters) - Bradley Manning, the U.S. intelligence analyst charged with leaking thousands of classified U.S. government cables to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, called on a military court on Wednesday to dismiss the charge that he aided an enemy of the United States, identified as Al Qaeda.
Manning, 24, who faces a military trial in September, is accused of downloading more than 700,000 classified or confidential files from the military while serving in Iraq in what would be the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.
Military prosecutors claim Manning knowingly gave U.S. intelligence to an enemy they have identified as “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” one of the terrorist group’s most potent affiliates, through the “indirect means” of the site WikiLeaks.
Manning’s attorney David Coombs pressed the court to dismiss the most serious of the 22 charges against Manning on the basis of what he called an overly broad interpretation of the law.
“They’re really trying to say he should have known better,” Coombs said, arguing that simply providing information to be published on the Internet does not constitute aiding enemies of the United States and that the prosecution’s interpretation violates the right to free speech.
Manning wanted to get information out to the public, but never showed “general evil intent” to give information to the enemy, Coombs said. He compared Manning’s actions to a soldier speaking to publications like the Washington Post or the New York Times.
Prosecutors argued Manning knowingly provided information based on his training as an intelligence analyst.
A soldier who, without proper authority, knowingly gives intelligence to the enemy can be punished for aiding the enemy, said a legal expert with the Military District of Washington, the Army command unit for the capital region, who was present at the hearing.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said she would rule on the motion on Thursday, the third day of pre-trial hearings.
Aiding the enemy is a capital offense but the prosecutor has said it would not seek the death penalty in Manning’s case. Manning could, however, face life in prison.
In a blow to the 24-year-old, Lind ruled against a motion filed by Manning’s lawyer to dismiss all charges because of what he called the prosecutor’s intentional withholding of evidence needed to prepare Manning’s defense, and set a tentative trial schedule for September 21 through October 12.
Manning’s trial will take place more than two years after he was arrested.
“The court finds no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct,” Lind said at the pre-trial hearing.
Manning, in a dark blue military dress uniform and black-rimmed glasses, listened intently to the arguments, occasionally leaning in to talk with his lawyer.
A handful of Manning’s supporters, who view him as a whistleblower, filled the pews behind Manning wearing T-shirts with the word “truth.” Lind instructed them to hold back from making any noise during court proceedings after one guffawed at the judge’s ruling.
Lind also denied a defense motion for a transcript or audio file of a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia that has been investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but ordered the testimony be examined for material relevant to Manning’s defense.
Lind said that although the FBI and the Army have pursued a WikiLeaks investigation, military prosecutors did not have the authority to release FBI documents.
Manning is accused of downloading files from the military’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, while serving in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Iraq.
Reporting By Lily Kuo; Editing by David Storey and Todd Eastham