By Chad Bouchard
A military judge has put off the trial of Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks, for another three months, to allow defense and prosecution more time to read the leaked files and prepare their cases.
The trial had been set for March, but has now moved to June 3rd, with a plea hearing on February 26th. The move comes as Manning approaches his 1,000th day in jail since his arrest in May 2010, and just before a hearing next week on whether the case should be thrown out due to sluggish progress.
The announcement chaffed a handful of Manning supporters who attended the hearing.
The delay was “an indication that somebody doesn’t have their act together,” said Bill Wagner, a 74-year-old retired NASA employee, during a brief recess outside the courtroom. “It’s so unfair,” Wagner added.
Manning faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy” — which could mean life in prison if the court finds him guilty.
Wagner and other activists have been frustrated by delays ever since Manning’s arrest. The government last year delivered a massive load of emails to the defense team for consideration at the last minute, a move Manning’s supporters say was meant to stall the proceedings.
This two-day pretrial hearing wraps up arguments from the prosecution and Manning’s defense team on which witnesses and facts are worthy of the court’s consideration.
The arguments surround two key questions: whether Manning’s stated motive to expose injustice in military operations should be considered, and whether the majority of the documents he leaked deserved to be “classified” in the first place.
The government told military judge Colonel Denise Lind that a number of the defense team’s witnesses were unqualified to testify as experts on the secrecy of documents.
Civilian defense attorney David Coombs defended plans to call professor Yochai Benkler, who wrote a book about Wikileaks, to establish that at the time Manning worked in Army intelligence, the group dedicated to exposing information was seen as a “legitimate news organization with no ties to the enemy.”
Prosecutors said Benkler’s testimony would be irrelevant, because the publisher’s reputation was irrelevant to their argument that Manning knowingly aided the enemy through indirect means.
Judge Lind asked, “If we substituted The New York Times for WikiLeaks, would you still charge Bradley Manning in way that you have?”
“Yes,” said prosecutor Captain Angel Overgaard, adding that the prosecution nonetheless planned to call a witness to “characterize” Wikileaks in a different way than the defense.
The government asked Lind to consider Army manuals, a list of people designated to be “known terrorists,” and newspaper reports and chat logs that would establish Manning’s relationship to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Coombs also defended the use of congressional testimony surrounding document secrecy as part of his case. He said four government agencies had assessed the leaked documents and determined that the “vast majority” were not potentially damaging. Coombs said the defense would call an unnamed expert known as “the Fort Leavenworth witness” who would testify that “90 percent” had already been publicly available before the leaks — much of that material published by the Department of Defense.
Another member of the prosecution team, Captain Joe Murrow, argued that the agencies’ assessments were not relevant because they are only unsigned drafts and do not reflect the departments’ official positions. He added, “there is no evidence of overclassification in this case.”
On Tuesday, Lind gave Manning 112 days of credit toward his potential sentence, saying Manning had been treated inappropriately in jail. The Army private was placed on suicide watch against psychologists’ recommendations, and was confined without human contact for 23 hours a day.
Michael McKee, an organizer for the Bradley Manning Support Network, said the sentence reduction was a good sign that the court recognized Manning’s treatment was illegal. but he felt the amount of credit given was little more than symbolic.
“On a human level, and in terms of the quality of justice that’s being offered, it’s galling,” he said. Beyond the case at hand, McKee added, “it sends a message that the military that they can keep doing what they’re doing, even when it’s wrong.”
Michael Marceau, a member of Veterans for Peace, was undecided about the outcome of the hearing. “All we can do is keep showing up to support Bradley, but that comes with a huge side dish of realism.”
Court is on recess until January 16th, when the court will decide on the speedy trial motion and rule on whether Manning’s motive as a whistleblower should be considered.