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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Manning Stumbles in Bid to Minimize Wikileaks Damage

FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - A defense attorney cannot depose eight witnesses who might show that national security remained strong as Wikileaks published more than 700,000 documents allegedly obtained by Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Manning's attorney, David Coombs, can try to get the witnesses on the stand at later discovery hearings.

Since May 2010, the 24-year-old soldier has been held in pretrial detention 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.

Col. Denise Lind, who is presiding over Manning's court-martial, made the announcement after a roughly three-hour delay in the courtroom proceedings in which the parties privately discussed classification procedures.

The public hearing lasted just 30 minutes, opening with the filing of protective orders. Lind then read out the names of the official classification authorities, or OCAs, whom defense attorney David Coombs sought to depose.

Those names included Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, the director of U.S. Central Command; Vice Admiral Robert S. Harwood, Central Command deputy commander; Patrick F. Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management; Rear Adm. David Woods, commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

Lind rejected the request, reaching the same conclusion as Investigating Officer Paul Almanza in the Article 32 hearings, the military equivalent of a grand jury, of December.

The colonel revealed Thursday that she could not access transcripts from the December hearings because the military did not make them available. Though proceedings are about a month along, Lind was also still in the dark about one of its central figures of the case.

"Who's Adrian Lamo?" she asked on Thursday, referring to Manning's accuser.

The question came up when the parties were discussing discovery for information that could impeach witness testimony. Lind said she would listen to tapes of those hearings to review portions of the case that the attorneys cited.

Lind has not yet ruled on defense requests for "damage assessments" by 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.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both filed reports stating that the leaks did not harm U.S. sources, Coombs said. Though prosecutors have called them "alleged damage assessments," prosecutor Ashden Fein did not deny their existence in court, but said that those assessments are ongoing.

Manning may take the witness stand to argue that he was mistreated on Jan. 18, 2011, in a taped interrogation. Multiple military officials have denied the tape exists, but Manning is expected to testify that he saw the camera pointed at him if he takes the stand.

Congressional candidate George English, a Democratic hopeful from Maryland who attended the hearing, told Courthouse News that proof Manning was forced to strip in his cell would be evidence of torture.

"This is Abu Ghraib treatment," said English, a retired economist and veteran.

Manning supporters criticized the military's ongoing failure to set a trial date, saying the suspect has been held far longer than speedy trial limits demand.

On Thursday, Coombs said that the "government continues to try to hide behind the complexity of the case" to justify the extended pretrial confinement.

Lind said at the same hearing that she is "sensitive" to Manning's speedy trial needs, but needs time to review the voluminous records of the case.

While the defense hopes the case will go to trial by May, prosecutors would prefer an August court date.

Kevin Zeese, an organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network, believed that prosecutors chose the date for strategic reasons.

"The media is out of town, and Congress is not in session," Zeese said. "I wonder why they want it then?"

The next scheduled dates for pretrial hearings are April 24 to 26.

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