Thursday, March 3, 2011

U.S. Army hits WikiLeaks suspect with more charges

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2011

A U.S. Army private suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive and classified documents to the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group was charged on Tuesday with aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty or life in prison.

The Army filed 22 new charges against Pvt. 1st Class Bradley E. Manning, reflecting the allegation that the military analyst downloaded and distributed more than 250,000 confidential State Department cables as well as a deluge of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. Thousands of the documents have been published on the WikiLeaks website.

Although aiding the enemy is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Army's prosecution team has notified Manning's defence lawyers that it will not recommend the death penalty to the two-star general who is in charge of continuing the legal action.

The Army, however, also has not ruled out charging others in the case, pending results of a continuing review. Army leaders have suggested that there may have been supervisory lapses that allowed the breach to occur.

The release of the State Department cables was denounced by U.S. officials, saying it put countless lives at risk, revealing the identities of people working secretly with the United States. It also sent shudders through the diplomatic community, as the cables revealed often embarrassing descriptions and assessments of foreign leaders, potentially jeopardizing U.S. relations with its allies.

While thousands of the cables have been released, the bulk of those downloaded have not been made public.

Last July Mr. Manning was charged with mishandling and leaking classified data and putting national security at risk in connection with the release of a military video of an attack on unarmed men in Iraq.

Army officials said the new charges accuse Manning of using unauthorized software on government computers to extract classified information, illegally download it and transmit the data for public release by what the Army termed "the enemy."

The charges follow seven months of Army investigation.

"The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Pvt. 1st Class Manning is accused of committing," said Capt. John Haberland, a legal spokesman for the Military District of Washington.

In a written statement detailing the new charges, the Army said that if Manning were convicted of all charges he would face life in prison, plus reduction in rank to the lowest enlisted pay grade, a dishonourable discharge and loss of all pay and allowances.

Manning's civilian attorney, David Coombs, said any charges that Manning may face at trial will be determined by an Article 32 investigation, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury proceeding, possibly beginning in late May or early June.

Mr. Manning's supporters were outraged.

"It's beyond ironic that leaked U.S. State Department cables have contributed to revolution and revolt in dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa, yet an American may be executed, or at best face life in prison, for being the primary whistle—blower," said Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist, an Oakland, California-based group that is raising funds for Mr. Manning's defence.

Trial proceedings against Mr. Manning have been on hold since July, pending the results of a medical inquiry into Mr. Manning's mental capacity and responsibility.

The 23-year-old Crescent, Okla., native is being held in maximum custody and prevention-of-injury watch at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va.

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