FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) – A military judge refused Thursday to dismiss any of the 22 charges against alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning.
The 24-year-old soldier is the suspected source of the largest leak in U.S. history, which exposed global diplomatic cables, incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and videos of airstrikes that killed and wounded civilians.
Though prosecutors believe Manning “aided the enemy,” Manning hoped to argue that the hundreds of thousands of exposed files did not damage national security, and that this was a foregone conclusion.
Lead defense attorney David Coombs recently argued that the charges could open any soldier to a capital offense for disclosing anything on the Internet or to a reporter without explicit authorization.
Military judge Col. Denise Lind let the charge stand at the conclusion of a three-day hearing Thursday, but she said the government will have to prove that Manning specifically knew the alleged leaks could aide the enemy.
The judge reserved decision on whether Manning’s lawyers can argue that their client believed the alleged leaks would expose wrongdoing without harming national security.
As reported by Wired Magazine, Manning allegedly told convicted hacker turned government informant Adrian Lamo, in an Internet chat, “if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”
WikiLeaks supporters, who filled the courtroom Thursday wearing T-shirts saying “truth,” herald Manning as a whistle-blower who pulled back the curtain on two wars and diplomatic malfeasance.
Coombs said he may argue at trial that Manning “chose carefully” the categories of files he knew were safe for release and did not touch the files that he believed could cause harm.
He claims multiple government agencies backed this conclusion with their own damage assessments.
On Tuesday, Manning’s defense won a motion to access those reports from the Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defense Intelligence Agency and Department of Justice.
The judge will inspect those documents privately, along with a State Department motion for reconsideration, before she hands them over to the defense.
If Col. Lind eventually releases them, she could rule that the defense can only mention them at sentencing, but not at trial.
The lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, said Manning’s opinion of the harm the leaks could cause is an irrelevant consideration.
“The accused’s personal decisions about whether he thought the document would be classified is irrelevant,” Fein said.
“An OCA must determine whether the document could, prospectively, could damage the national security,” he added, abbreviating official classification authorities.
Coombs countered that he needs the damage assessments to properly cross-examine those OCAs.
“Otherwise, the OCA can sit up there and say with impunity whatever he wants, or she wants,” Coombs said. “The crucible of cross-examination gets to the truth.”
It was especially important to hold the judgments of classification officers under scrutiny because there is a bipartisan consensus that government information has been overclassified, the defense attorney added.
Months after Manning’s arrest, President Barack Obama signed the Reducing Over-Classification Act with wide bipartisan support. The White House noted in its announcement that the 9/11 Commission found that excessive secrecy thwarted efforts to stop the attacks.
At the hearing, Fein repeatedly cited “confusion” over whether the “actual harm” issue was relevant to the court-martial, or just the sentencing.
Coombs denied that it was confusing at all.
“The fact that the government does not believe that actual harm is not relevant on the merits is interesting, but wrong,” Coombs said.
Fein has long argued that “damage assessments” were ongoing “investigations,” a distinction he illustrated with a hypothetical argument about handing over nuclear secrets to the enemy.
Even if there is no harm the next day, there could be later on, Fein said.
Coombs said that the hypothetical was dramatically different from this case.
“Several years have gone by, or at least two,” since Manning was arrested and incarcerated without any proof of harm, he said.
Coombs also argued earlier that the so-called “war logs” from the SIGACTS, or “Significant Actions,” databases that Manning allegedly exposed would not compromise any source because they are only referenced by number. The defense plans to argue that the other broad categories of alleged leaks had no potentially damaging information.
Videos of strikes in Afghanistan’s Granai province and Baghdad, for example, have been revealed recently to be unclassified.
Lind will rule on the issue when the parties meet again on June 6.