Manning Still Faces Enemy-Aiding Charge

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – Pfc. Bradley Manning will still face “aiding the enemy” and computer fraud charges for supplying WikiLeaks with the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history, a military judge ruled Thursday.
     The former intelligence specialist faces 22 charges connected with the disclosure of more than 700,000 military and diplomatic files, including battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. embassy cables, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians.
     Manning said he hoped the publication of this information would spark widespread debate, reforms, and reportage about the way the U.S. conducts warfare and diplomacy.
     Although the “aiding the enemy” charge against him is a possible capital offense, prosecutors are seeking a life sentence in this case rather than the death penalty. The charge has ignited controversy for heightening the risk sources face in approaching journalists with information they believe to be in the public interest.
     When the prosecution rested its case, lead defense attorney David Coombs moved to dismiss that charge because he said the evidence proved that Manning wanted to help the public, not al-Qaida or its affiliates.
     Manning’s defense against this charge hinges on Lind’s interpretation of the evidence the government has shown about Manning’s intent. Prosecutors believe that they need to prove only that Manning knew that the massive leak could be a boon to al-Qaida, not that this was his goal.
     As a former intelligence specialist, Manning had been trained in the dangers of releasing classified information, had been told that the U.S. adversaries used the Internet, and learned about the types of information that required protection, prosecutors said.
     He also saw, and leaked, a U.S. Army counterintelligence report titled: “WikiLeaks.org – An Online Reference for Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?”
     Lead defense attorney David Coombs recently argued there “should be an intent requirement” to show that Manning wanted to help enemies of the U.S. to prevent the statute from being used to “hammer down on any whistle-blower or person who wants to put the information out.”
     At the time, the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, replied, “Whatever ‘should’ be, are you saying that’s how the court should read the knowledge prong of the law or that the court should change the law?”
     She refused to dismiss this charge on Thursday.
     Asked about Lind’s “change the law” query, military law expert Eugene Fidell said in an interview that Lind did have the power to rule that the prosecution’s use of the “aiding the enemy” charge was unconstitutional.
     “Military judges are required, in fact, to weigh constitutional issues,” he said. “They’re the functional equivalent of federal district judges.”
     Fidell, who lectures at Yale University, has long expressed skepticism about the government’s use of this charge and said that most of the prosecution’s evidence against Manning relied on “circumstantial evidence.”
     “I have my doubts as to whether the government has overcome reasonable doubt here,” he said.
     In her ruling, Judge Lind emphasized that the dismissal motion required her to view the evidence in the “light most favorable to the prosecution,” and that there need only be “some evidence” to support the charges.
     The reasonable doubt standard applies only in reaching a verdict, Lind said.
     Fidell nevertheless predicted that her ruling could be a sign of things to come.
     “Does it lock her into a particular outcome? No, but I would say it’s not a good sign for the defense,” Fidell said.
     The judge also declined to toss the allegation that Manning “exceeded authorized access” to his computer. Defense lawyers say manning had unrestricted access to browse the military and diplomatic databases as an all-source intelligence analyst, but prosecutors claim that the soldier used unauthorized software to download the hundreds of thousands of files in bulk.
     Meanwhile, poorly conceived language on Manning’s charge sheet could doom as many as four claims that the soldier stole “databases.” The private actually downloaded copies of documents within those databases, Coombs said.
     One of the prosecutors, Capt. Alexander von Elten, pointed out that Manning himself had written in Internet chats that he had taken “databases.”
     Still, Manning’s mistaken impression might not relieve the government of its requirements to charge him correctly.
     “If a charge sheet is defective,” could the government cure it by saying, “Oh, well, the accused knew,” Lind asked pointedly.
     She reserved her decision on this matter.
     The government will present its rebuttal case this afternoon.

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