Blow Dealt to Manning’s|’Good Soldier’ Defense

     FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) – In addition to their 22 charged offenses, prosecutors can use uncharged conduct by alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning to undermine his defense that he was a “good soldier” before his arrest, a military judge ruled Thursday.
     Pfc. Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of files, including classified information, to the WikiLeaks website. So far, the court has referred to his uncharged offenses by number to protect his privacy.
     But the presiding judge, Col. Denise Lind, revealed in a pretrial hearing Wednesday that the first act involved Manning creating a YouTube video to tell his family that he was about to go on a mission he called “secret” and “top secret.”
     While the private first class never faced charges over the video, he had to take “corrective training” to teach him the dangers of spilling classified information.
     Lind ruled Thursday that the prosecutors could play the video at trial if they show it is relevant to their allegations. No information has been revealed about “Act 2” or “Act 3,” but one of them is inadmissible, Lind ruled.
     Later, the parties elaborated their arguments on whether to admit statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicating that the WikiLeaks releases had little impact on national security.
     The government has been fighting to bar the evidence at trial or at sentencing.
     One of the 24-year-old soldier’s military defenders, Capt. Joshua Tooman, acknowledged that no appellate court has heard a case deciding whether quotations of high-ranking officials in news accounts can be admitted at trial.
     The judge did not appear surprised by that.
     “I understand that we’re in a unique situation here,” Lind said.
     Tooman said that one of the most related rulings found that articles quoting “disinterested parties” could not be admitted, but that Clinton and Gates did not fall under that category.
     “They’ve got skin in the game,” Tooman said.
     The attorney noted that high-ranking government officials like Clinton and Gates are commonly referred to as “equity holders” of classified information.
     Calling them disinterested “doesn’t really hold water,” Tooman said.
     Nevertheless, prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow insisted that their quoted remarks were irrelevant.
     Skeptical, Judge Lind asked, “So the prosecution’s position is at odds with … ‘We don’t agree with Sec. Gates and Sec. Clinton’?”
     “No,” Morrow replied.
     He specified that he objected to newspaper accounts as hearsay, but that the defense had a stronger case for admitting a letter that Gates wrote to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
     Lifting up a copy of the letter, Morrow called it “authentic and reliable.”
     Referring to the newspaper quotes, Lind asked, “Is it the government’s position that they were never made?”
     Morrow replied that they could have been incomplete.
     Although the issue might not have gone to appeal, one of the courtroom spectators, National Security Administration whistleblower Thomas Drake, said that government lawyers tried the same maneuver on him before their prosecution against him collapsed.
     Like Manning, Drake was charged with violating the Espionage Act for allegedly disclosing classified information.
     A former senior executive of the NSA, Drake alerted a Baltimore Sun reporter to the agency’s widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens, leading to an award-winning series of articles.
     Now a prominent Manning supporter, Drake eventually won a Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling, named after the Vietnam veteran who exposed the My Lai massacre.
     “They tried to excise out any of the articles that were published,” Drake told reporters, referring to his one-time prosecutors. “It was as if that history never existed.”
     His lawyer, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, added, “Obviously, they want to back away from what government officials have said,” referring to the Manning case.
     Lind ordered the parties to give her more briefings on the matter before she issues a ruling, possibly at the next set of hearings in October.
     Manning, who spent more than 800 days in pre-trial confinement and nine months in isolation at a Marine Corp prison in Quantico, Va., will have two opportunities to have his case dismissed for speedy trial violations and unlawful pretrial punishment.
     If unsuccessful, the young soldier will stand trial from Feb. 4 to March 15 next year, on charges that could lead to life in prison.

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