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Bin Laden Email Pops Up in Manning Court-Martial

FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - To convict Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy, military prosecutors claim they can show that Osama bin Laden transmitted WikiLeaks files in an email.

Declassified, but not public, the alleged bin Laden email contains an attachment of files that WikiLeaks had published as the Afghanistan "war logs." Prosecutors say the email was found in the raid of bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.

Manning disputes that he aided the enemy, a charge that carries a life sentence, but he has offered to plead guilty to pared-down versions of some of the remaining charges against him.

The proposed guilty pleas generally acknowledge that Manning sent most of the files, but the revised pleas strike the language framing these alleged acts as serious violations of the Espionage Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and other statutes.

Defense attorneys contend that Manning, as a former intelligence specialist, leaked categories of data that he believed would expose misconduct and promote civic discussion without putting people at risk.

If accepted by Col. Denise Lind, the military judge, the revised plea proposal submitted Wednesday may be entered into the record late next month.

At the hearing, Manning's lawyers sparred with the government over evidence they want considered for judicial notice, a relaxed standard of admission before trial.

Judge Lind made no rulings about the evidence offered to her during these arguments, including the proffered bin Laden email and an article published in Inspire, an al-Qaida propaganda outlet.

Prosecutors also hope to have the evidence include the State Department's list of terrorist groups, Army regulations, and articles from The New York Times and The New Yorker.

Capt. Joe Morrow said that some information discussed in the articles would help authenticate alleged chat logs between Manning and Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks.

Defense attorneys want the judge to consider congressional testimony about the overclassification of government data, the Reducing Over-Classification Act and so-called "damage assessments" from multiple government agencies stating WikiLeaks did not harm the United States.

Manning's defense attorneys argued for the admission of witnesses to support their arguments that the government has overblown the impact of WikLeaks.

The trial could hit a crossroads if the court allows testimony from Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, who will likely defend WikiLeaks as a legitimate news outlet, a philosophical question at the heart of the case.

In the past, prosecutors have argued that WikiLeaks was uniquely poised to aid the enemy, but they retreated from that position Wednesday as an apparent strategy to undermine the relevance of Benkler's testimony.

Somewhat skeptical, Lind tried to pin prosecutors down on this issue.

But they insisted they would have prosecuted Manning if he had leaked to The New York Times.

Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, will testify that the "detainee assessment briefs" that Manning allegedly gave to WikiLeaks revealed no more information than the Pentagon volunteered during his tenure, the defense said.

Lead defense attorney David Coombs said that detainee information appeared in greater depth in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals from 2006 and 2007.

Another proposed witness, Peter Galbraith, once served as a U.S. ambassador to Croatia.

Though the former diplomat is not a Manning supporter, he still allegedly plans to testify that the leaked cables at issue were not sensitive because they were tagged "SIP-Dis," which is reserved for the least restrictive type of distribution.

"No prudent diplomat would generally use sensitive information on any SIP-Dis," Coombs said.

Charles Ganiel, appointed to assist the defense, may take the stand to say that 97 percent of information released in the cables could also be found by searching open-source information.

If he testifies, Ganiel must waive any claims to privilege he had by assisting the defense.

As preliminary litigation continues to expand, the start date has been pushed back until June 3.

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