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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
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Manning Jury Can Hear Some Obama Remarks

FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - President Barack Obama's remarks 2 years ago that WikiLeaks disclosures "don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan" could be used to seek a reduced sentence if Pfc. Bradley Manning is convicted at court martial, a military judge ruled Thursday.

The 24-year-old soldier faces up to life in prison if convicted of sending WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of files about U.S. diplomacy and warfare, including 91,731 documents related to the Afghanistan War, which WikiLeaks published on July 25, 2010.

Two days later, Obama said in the White House Rose Garden: "While I'm concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan; indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall."

Weeks later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that the Pentagon could not find evidence that sources were compromised.

"The initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security; however, the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure," Gates wrote.

Trial judge Col. Denise Lind's ruling means that attorneys for Manning can use these statements for a sentence reduction, if he is convicted.

Lind also ruled that a statement by Pentagon Press secretary Geoff Morrell, that the releases would not affect the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, could also be admitted.

All of these statements were published on official letterhead, she noted.

But comments that Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden made to reporters cannot be admitted, as "newspaper articles are not business records," Lind said.

Later this month, Manning will try to get his case dismissed due to pre-trial delays, which have stretched more than 800 days.

Military law sets a 120-day limit before imposing a sanction, with exceptions for "excludable delays."

The parties on Thursday previewed their arguments about why those exceptions should or should not apply, as this round of hearings wrapped up.

The lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, said he needed to wait for two crucial pieces of evidence - forensic assessments and classification records - to "unlock the gates" preventing the case from going to a pretrial hearing, or Article 32, last December.

Getting some of this evidence involved working with original classification authorities, or OCAs, who determine the status of sensitive information.

But Manning's lead defense attorney, David Coombs, said that prosecutors should have reminded these OCAs, "Hey look, there's a thing called speedy trial!"

He said the officials took 530 days to inspect documents ranging from 3 to 51 pages.

"These are not 'War and Peace' novels being reviewed by the OCAs," Coombs said.

He wants to call more than 50 OCA officials to see what caused the delay.

Lind said this might not be necessary because the burden is on the government to show the delays were warranted, and they did not call the witnesses either. "Proffer isn't proof," she said.

Fein said that prosecutors should not be held culpable for other agencies' delays, and that classification matters represented a small "slice of the pie."

"This is a very large pie," he said. "A large piece was the evidence. A smaller slice was classification."

Fein said the biggest piece of evidence was forensic reports concluding that the files on Manning's computer exactly matched the WikiLeaks releases.

"Would the government have gone to Article 32 without this report?" Lind asked. "No, Your Honor, absolutely not," Fein said.

Coombs countered that the prosecutors could have brought the case off the ground with other evidence they used at their hearing, including purported Internet chat logs between Manning and his accuser, Adrian Lamo.

The U.S. Army's Computer Investigation Unit, or CCIA, which produced the forensics, does not get a free pass for time lags, either, Judge Lind said.

"What if CCIA took 5 years to complete those works?" Lind asked.

The parties will elaborate on these arguments at a weeklong hearing starting Oct. 30.

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