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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Bradley Manning Primes Plea as Judge Defends Trial Delays

FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - A military judge refused to free Bradley Manning based on his 1,000-day wait before trial on the biggest intelligence disclosure in U.S. history.

"The government assiduously worked to bring this case to trial," military judge Col. Denise Lind said at a hearing on the 1,008th day of Manning's pretrial confinement.

Though the military justice system mandates that the time from arrest until the referral of charges to court-martial may not exceed 120 days, "excludable delays" can stop the "speedy trial clock."

The 25-year-old private first class has been incarcerated since May 2010 for allegedly sending hundreds of thousands of files with U.S. diplomatic and wartime secrets to WikiLeaks.

More than 600 days later, Manning's charges were formally referred on Feb. 3, 2012, but the parties agreed that roughly half of these delays were necessary.

Col. Lind spent most of a Tuesday hearing reading the government's reasons for each of the disputed delays into the record.

She agreed with those justifications nearly in every instance, except for six days Manning's investigating officer set aside to drive his child to a swim meet and perform unrelated civilian work.

That investigating officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, committed an "abuse of discretion" by scratching off those days, the judge said.

With the exception of this finding, Lind defended every freeze of the speedy trial clock requested by the government as the product of a "complex and unprecedented" case requiring an "almost unfathomable coordination in manpower."

WikiLeaks further complicated this effort by continuing to publish documents during the investigation, Lind said.

Col. Carl Coffman, the convening authority overseeing the prosecution, made many of the same arguments when he was called to testify about the delays at a hearing in November.

Under cross-examination, Coffman agreed that he rarely questioned any decision to pause the speedy trial clock, and he scanned the documents confirming these freezes for typographical errors.

Defense attorney David Coombs repeatedly called him a "rubber stamp" in a 117-page motion detailing the speedy trial violations that he alleged.

The judge's ruling did not recount this allegation and testimony. She said instead found that the government worked "diligently" to pore through the classified records needed to sustain the charges.

Another pause on the trial clock reflects meetings of the "sanity board," which confirmed Manning's competency to stand trial. Manning's defense claimed on the other hand that the board dragged its feet for several months.

Such meetings required three panelists to gain security clearances and schedule interviews in a secure room at a time convenient for all parties, Lind said.

"Op Plan Bravo," the military's name for its press outreach and security measures at Ft. Meade, accounted for more excluded weeks before the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury.

Only 90 days remained by the end of the judge's tally, two-thirds of the way shy of the speedy trial limit.

She also rejected finding constitutional violations under the Sixth Amendment, a potentially broader standard.

"There is no evidence that the government could have brought the case to trial earlier but ... spitefully refused to do so," Lind said.

Defense Attacks Relevance of Bin Laden Emails


Later in the afternoon, defense attorneys urged Lind to block prosecutors from using emails found on Osama bin Laden's hard drives in his Abbottabod compound as evidence that the Manning "aided the enemy," a charge carrying a potential life sentence.

Manning also faces decades in prison if convicted of 21 other charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, and offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Prosecutors want to call nine witnesses to testify to the chain of custody from bin Laden's hard drive to an FBI agent to a Quantico laboratory for forensic analysis.

One of them, "John Doe," was the first to secure the emails from the Abbottabad compound.

Those emails have not been made public, and the defense is expected to challenge their authenticity.

Coombs, the defense attorney, called such testimony irrelevant because the government needs to prove that Manning knew that the files he allegedly leaked could potentially have fallen into the hands of an "enemy."

"Nowhere does it state that actual receipt by the enemy is required," Coombs said.

His remark was a mirror image of two arguments that prosecutors previously made in motions to exclude evidence that the government over-classifies information and that the WikiLeaks disclosures did not harm national security.

Judge Lind sided with the government in barring evidence of "actual harm," and she intends to rule on the over-classification issue this week.

Coombs acknowledged that the dispute marks "an interesting juxtaposition of our normal positions."

Maj. Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor, also found himself switching hats.

"The United States has not found a case that specifically states that receipt is required," he acknowledged.

But Fein insisted that the interpretation was justified by the Civil War-era case of a soldier convicted of giving a newspaper a command roster of Union soldiers.

Though he did not mention the case by name, its description fits the case of Pvt. Henry Vanderwater, whose case the Associated Press reported was the basis of the aiding the enemy charge in the Manning case.

Vanderwater served three months of hard labor and a dishonorable discharge for his leak to the press.

The judge reserved decision on whether the bin Laden emails can sustain a different aiding the enemy charge, a century and a half later.

Pfc. Manning Prepares His Plea

Later in the week, Manning intends to deliver a "naked plea" admitting that he sent the vast majority of the files to WikiLeaks, but denying various aspects of the government's interpretations of the disclosure.

A military judge typically questions armed service members about their court-martial pleas more vigorously than typical for civilian trials.

Coombs revealed that Manning wrote a lengthy speech explaining why he sent the files, a move that one of the prosecutors called "highly irregular."

That prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow, objected to admitting the document at all, and specifically moved to suppress certain passages in which Manning said he wanted the leaks to inform the public.

He said that one of these passages alludes to the Iraqi Federal Police.

Manning said he became disillusioned with the military in Iraq when a superior ordered him to send the Iraqi Federal Police political dissidents decrying corruption, knowing those detainees would be tortured on spurious terrorism charges.

On pages 25 and 26 of the speech, Manning talks about having wanted to "spar a domestic debate on the role of the military in foreign policy" with the WikiLeaks disclosures, Morrow said.

Such a statement would undermine his proffered guilty plea to bringing "discredit upon the armed forces," Morrow said, an argument that appeared to resonate with the judge.

"In order to be service discrediting, it has to discredit the service," Lind said.

Coombs indicated that Manning understood that and it would be reflected in his plea.

The judge reserved decision on whether Manning can read the statement in part or in full on Thursday.

Hearings continue on Wednesday with discussion on how to deal with classified matters at a public trial.

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