The former military intelligence analyst accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks has spent the last four days in a Maryland military court, undergoing a hearing to determine whether or not his case will proceed to court-martial.

For those new to the party, 24-year-old Bradley Manning is accused of committing the biggest security breach in American history. He has been in detainment for the last 19 months, and he faces a multitude of military charges.

The Article 32 hearings, which began on Friday, are something akin to grand jury proceedings in civilian court. At the end, Investigating Officer Colonel Paul Almanza, an Army Reserve officer and Justice Department prosecutor, will decide recommend whether Manning’s case will proceed to court-martial.

So far, the hearings have been interesting to say the least. Let’s see what’s going on….

Kim Zetter at Wired’s Threat Level is blogging extensively about the hearings (and tweeting some color commentary from court):

Manning, who turned 24 Saturday, is charged with 22 violations of military law and faces possible life imprisonment. Manning, who at the time was an Army intelligence analyst, is accused of abusing his access to classified computer systems to leak diplomatic cables, Iraq and Afghanistan action reports and the so-called Collateral Murder video to WikiLeaks. In chat logs published by Wired, Manning allegedly told Lamo that he leaked the documents as an act of political protest against a corrupt system and the he snuck files out of a shared workroom using rewritable CDs labeled with pop stars names, such as Lady Gaga.

One of the bigger revelations from the hearings is that the government produced chat logs from Manning’s own computer, where the soldier allegedly discussed leaking the cables. The messages had previously been made public, but Julian Assange and other Manning supporters claimed the chat messages could have been fabricated. Because the government found the logs on Manning’s own computer, forgery seems less likely.

The hearings have been understandably tense. Manning has a lot of supporters in the technology community. Although he has spent the last year and a half in custody, many say he is a whistleblower, not a traitor.

Back in April, more than 250 legal scholars signed a letter protesting the way the Justice Department was treating Manning. In the letter, signatories including Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe protested Manning’s “degrading and inhumane conditions.” The letter called the military’s conduct illegal and unconstitutional.

On Friday, the hearing started with a bang when defense attorneys accused Investigating Officer Colonel Almanza (the equivalent of a judge in the case) of bias, because of his work as a Justice Department prosecutor. The defense unsuccessfully asked Almanza to recuse himself. (Hmm, I wonder where we’ve seen that before?)

Earlier today, retired lieutenant and prominent Don’t Ask Don’t Tell activist Dan Choi told Politico he was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed while trying to attend the hearing.

Zetter reported another dramatic moment on Sunday, which reads like something out of A Few Good Men:

Proceedings in the court this morning continued in a contentious manner between defense attorney Coombs and the proceeding’s equivalent of a judge, Investigating Officer Capt. Paul Almanza. At one point, when the IO tried to stop a line of questioning with a witness, questioning the relevancy. Coombs abruptly walked to the defense table and grabbed a book containing Article 32 procedural rules and brandished it to Almanza.

“I would caution the investigating officer as to case law,” he said, adding that the defense should be given wide latitude in questioning to obtain evidence.

“The IO should not arbitrarily limit cross-examination, ” he said. “I am not going off into the ozone layer about this. . . I should be allowed to ask questions about what this witness saw so I can have this testimony under oath as part of discovery.”

Zetter reports that the defense is trying to show that the Army should have responded better to behavioral problems Manning exhibited early in his enlistment. He should have never been deployed, or he should have lost his security clearance earlier, “both of which would have made it impossible for him to obtain the documents he allegedly leaked to WikiLeaks.”

So which is it? Traitor or courageous hero? Should the government put him in jail and throw away the key, or throw him a parade?

Army Arrested Manning Based on Unconfirmed Chat Logs [Threat Level / Wired]
DADT activist Dan Choi barred from Bradley Manning hearing [Politico]
Request for Recusal Denied in Case Against Manning [Associated Press]


Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He covers legal technology and the West Coast for Above the Law. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at cdanziggmail.com. You can read more of his work at chrisdanzig.com.


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