FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) – Military prosecutors plan to argue that Pfc. Bradley Manning aided al-Qaida by allegedly sending 700,000 confidential files to Wikileaks, they revealed early Thursday morning.
Defense attorney David Coombs moved to toss all charges hours later, claiming that the military doomed his client’s case “beyond cure” by withholding key documents and witnesses.
Manning has been held in pretrial detention since May 2010 on suspicion that he was the source of the biggest leak in U.S. history, which revealed global diplomatic cables, incident reports from two wars and footage of a July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
The soldier spent more than a year in prison before he saw his first day at an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury, last December.
Thursday’s hearings marked the beginning of the end of the pretrial process, in which the government describes the specifics of its allegations and sets the terms of the trial.
While the government has long accused Manning of “aiding the enemy,” it identified that enemy for the first time as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. They will elaborate on that theory when the case goes to court-martial.
Defense attorney Coombs, meanwhile, believes that government doomed its case through its own excessive secrecy.
Coombs claims that the government improperly withheld “damage assessments” by official classification authorities; a Jan. 18, 2011 video of Bradley Manning’s interrogation at a marine brig in Quantico, Va.; and in-case forensic images from military computers.
The defense team hopes that the damage assessments will boost its arguments that Manning’s alleged disclosures did not harm U.S. national security. The forensic computer images, meanwhile, may show that security breaches were rampant in Manning’s unit.
Though Manning claims that he was tortured in the Jan. 18, 2011, video, multiple military officials claim that the footage does not exist. The military argued that it cannot turn over the other documents and images because they are classified.
The defense seeks to depose the official classification authorities, or OCAs, who can assess the alleged harm of the leaks. Coombs says one of those officers, Secretary Defense Robert Gates, said that the leaks did not compromise sources.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also played down the harm of the leaks that allegedly aided the enemy.
The names of several of the OCAs that the defense intends to call are classified.
Coombs has called the military’s hornbook judicial procedures regarding disclosure “the elephant in the room.”
Under military law, the military must first invoke privilege before refusing to turn over information on classification grounds, Coombs said. Here, the military allegedly made its repeated denials without asserting privilege.
“They cannot simply say, ‘Classified. Denied,'” Coombs said. “They ignore the very clear mandates of our military justice system.”
Coombs compared this to botching a baking recipe.
“A cake takes 45 minutes to bake,” Coombs proposed. “We’re at minute 40, and the government says, ‘Wait, we forgot to put the eggs in it.'”
Prosecutors cannot turn over the documents at this point because Manning, who already has been detained longer than speedy-trial limits demand, cannot wait for the discovery process to complete, Coombs asserted.
A military legal spokesman countered that the discovery rules do not apply until arraignment.
“We’re still within egg-putting-in time,” the spokesman quipped.
The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, has not yet ruled on the motion to dismiss.
Hearings continue on Friday.
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