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Pfc. Bradley Manning Closer to Entering Plea

FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - Pfc. Bradley Manning privately told his trial judge Wednesday how he intends to respond to charges that he sent WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of confidential files about U.S. diplomacy and warfare.

During his arraignment in February, the 24-year-old soldier deferred pleading on any of the 22 charges against him. He also declined to state whether would prefer trying the case before a judge or jury.

On Wednesday, he updated his trial judge, Col. Denise Lind, about his plans for trial, slated for Feb. 4, 2013, through a form that was not read into the record.

"Do you authorize this submission to the court?" Lind asked.

"I do, Your Honor," Manning replied.

Though not a formal plea, its undisclosed details will allow prosecutors to question potential jurors and help the court prepare for trial.

The mystery form is not publicly available due to document restrictions that, in U.S. jurisprudence, are unique to courts martial.

At the military base here, splashes of yellow and crimson leaves brightened manicured green lawns and pale-red brick buildings. Journalists and spectators at the high-profile case thinned out as the proceedings delved into arcane pre-trial preparations. Four credentialed reporters were on hand, along with a handful of Manning's supporters that regularly line the gallery.

The morning began with rulings allowing redactions in CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security documents, and in data designated as "Bucket Two."

This refers to "above secret" information involving "persons at risk" from disclosure, a military legal spokesman said.

Later, one of Manning's military defenders, Capt. Joshua Tooman, renewed his bid to admit statements from high-level officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, downplaying the impact of the releases.

Gates, for example, told Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that he believed that the predictions about the diplomatic impact of the disclosures were "fairly significantly overwrought."

In many cases, the defense submitted press accounts of these remarks for judicial notice, which would allow them to use the information to seek a reduced sentence, if Manning is convicted.

Capt. Tooman acknowledged that submitting press accounts of high-ranking government officials is a rare maneuver, but he said Manning's case is unique.

"No one's been charged the way Pfc. Manning has been charged," Tooman said. "So there's not a lot of case law."

One prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow, said the court should not allow it for that reason.

"The government's saying there's no precedent for what the defense is trying to do," Morrow said.

The judge indicated that if she lets official statements in, prosecutors might also benefit from the relaxed standard.

"What if there are congressional hearings that say something you don't like?" Lind asked Tooman. "Is that admissible?"

Tooman said it would be.

In August , Tooman asked the court to acknowledge that Washington Post journalist David Finkel scooped WikiLeaks on its most famous release: footage of a Baghdad airstrike that killed 12 people, including two Reuters journalists.

Before WikiLeaks published the video under the name "Collateral Murder," Finkel had produced a transcript of it in his book "The Good Soldiers," Tooman said.

Lind has not yet ruled on whether she will acknowledge that Finkel provided a "verbatim" report of the video dialogue, until she sees the tape.

Lead defense attorney David Coombs said he hoped to cite the book to shave off one charge against his client.

"Here, it's clear that David Finkel must have had access to Specification Two, Charge Two," Coombs said, referring to the part of Manning's indictment related to the release of the video.

Lind took both matters under advisement and adjourned until the hearing resumes this afternoon (Thursday).

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