FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) – A military judge on Wednesday refused to toss the 22 charges against alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning, but she may scale them back.
Manning’s defense attorney argued at a hearing Wednesday that any U.S. soldier can lose his life for making any unauthorized disclosure over the Internet based on the top charge, aiding the enemy.
Manning 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.
Hailed by his supporters as a whistle-blower, the 24-year-old soldier faces life imprisonment for the aiding-the-enemy charge, plus more than a century behind bars for a host of other specifications involving allegedly unauthorized thefts and disclosures.
After turning down a motion to dismiss all charges, Col. Denise Lind scheduled Manning’s court-martial for Sept. 21 to Oct. 12.
Defense attorney David Coombs says Manning can no longer have a fair trial because prosecutors have withheld key evidence indicating that the hundreds of thousands of allegedly leaked files did not harm national security.
Turning over such evidence this close to trial would unfairly prolong Manning’s time in pretrial detention, Coombs argued.
Manning has been in military custody for more than 700 days, far higher than the 120-day speedy trial standard.
Lind agreed that prosecutors misunderstood what evidence they had to turn over, but she did not believe the withholding was intentional and incurable.
“The court finds no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct,” Lind said.
Prosecutors’ obligations to turn over the evidence started this past February, when the court-martial process officially began, she added.
Lind also refused to have prosecutors turn over complete grand jury evidence from federal investigations into Manning and WikiLeaks.
But she said prosecutors must still comb these records for any information that could benefit Manning’s defense.
Unable to dismiss the case as a whole, Coombs attacked the individual charges on Wednesday.
He argued that the prosecutors’ decision to charge Manning with a violation of Article 104, the aiding-the-enemy charge, could have “alarming” free-speech repercussions.
“If the definition this way is used and accepted, then 104 would be alarming in its scope,” Coombs said. “There would be no guidelines on a prosecutor’s discretion.”
Prosecutors claim that the alleged leaks aided al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and Manning knew the leaks would have that effect.
Coombs said the charge was designed to punish those who have “evil intent” when sharing information with the enemy.
Without this showing, a soldier could be executed for telling a Washington Post reporter about high suicide rates, low morale or pervasive post-traumatic stress disorder in his unit without authorization.
Though aiding the enemy is potentially a capital offense, the military has not executed a soldier in decades. Prosecutors let the deadline pass to seek the death penalty against Manning.
An assistant prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow, said that Manning’s case was different because he allegedly uploaded the information to a “specific website,” an apparent reference to WikiLeaks.
Coombs rejected the distinction.
“The same thing can be said for The New York Times or The Washington Post,” he said.
Manning allegedly told government informant Adrian Lamo in online chats that the information deserved to be public and inspire social change.
Coombs pointed to the alleged chat logs as evidence that “evil intent” was completely absent.
Morrow said that the court should not apply that standard.
“I could have the purest motives in the world,” and still commit an aiding the enemy offense, the prosecutor said.
Coombs countered that motive and intent were different.
“You see now, even with their oral argument, [prosecutors] are not saying that he provided this information to WikiLeaks for the express purpose of aiding the enemy,” Coombs said.
Earlier in the day, Coombs targeted some of the lesser offenses as duplicative.
A single transmission of incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are broken down into the databases they came from, and then further divided into receipt and transfer allegations.
Coombs said prosecutors are trying to “double the punishment” by overcharging his client. He argued that this could not stand under the standard set by U.S. v. Quiroz, in which a military court threw out duplicative charges against a soldier convicted of possession of marijuana and explosives.
Lind is expected to rule on the specific dismissal motions Thursday.