Bin Laden Revelation Marks Last Manning Hearing

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – At his last hearing before his June 3 trial, Pfc. Bradley Manning stipulated that the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound turned up Osama bin Laden’s instructions to an al-Qaida member to find secret files published by WikiLeaks.
     The “same member of al-Qaida” replied to bin Laden with Department of State and Afghanistan “war log” information that the secret-spilling website released, according to the stipulation. Prosecutors promised that they could prove this link at a hearing late last year, and Manning waived his right to contest the connection on the witness stand Tuesday morning.
     The evidence, if accepted at trial, could eliminate the need for prosecutors to call the presumed Navy Seal believed to have found the files during the May 2, 2011 raid.
     Manning, a 25-year-old former intelligence specialist, admitted in February to having sent WikiLeaks the largest intelligence trove in U.S. history. The leaked files included hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Guantanamo detainee profiles, and, most famously, footage of a Baghdad airstrike.
     He is accused of “aiding the enemy,” a charge that could carry a life sentence, and one that he emphatically denies.
     The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, ruled that the bin Laden evidence was relevant to whether Manning is guilty of the top charge, but prosecutors must show more than receipt of classified information by an enemy to prove the top charge.
     To meet their burden, prosecutors must prove that the files qualified as “national defense” information, a closely held government secret, and that Manning had “reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”
     During a statement he delivered at his plea, Manning testified that he chose files, and categories of files, that he believed would provoke public debate about how the U.S. conducts war and diplomacy, without putting national security at risk.
     For example, he said that he viewed the Afghanistan war logs as low sensitivity “historical data” and only released diplomatic cables marked “SIP-DIS,” a designation intended for wide distribution among government employees.
     In admitting the disclosures, he pleaded guilty to 10 so-called “lesser included offenses,” military violations that carry a maximum two-year sentence per specification over a potential 10-year sentence for each equivalent federal crime.
     If convicted only as he pleaded, he could spend 20 years in prison, but prosecutors intend to push for all 22 original counts save one. The government accepted his plea today in connection to the disclosure of the “Reykjavik 13” cable, relating to diplomatic pressure in the Icelandic financial crisis,
     The government’s acceptance of that lesser plea could shave eight years off his maximum life-plus-decades sentence.
     In the afternoon, Judge Lind allowed the government to close the courtroom for 24 witnesses testifying about classified information. More than 150 witnesses are expected to testify at trial.
     Prosecutors originally estimated that about a third of trial would be closed to the public. The number of classified witnesses has not changed since that time, but the judge has limited the scope of their testimony. The stipulation about the bin Laden emails could also chip away at the classified testimony.
     Judge Lind added that redacted versions of these transcripts would be made public, though it is unclear how long the process to release them might take.

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