(CN) – An investigating officer for the U.S. military found Thursday that Pfc. Bradley Manning should face court-martial proceedings for allegedly giving classified information to Wikileaks.
Though the Army has spurned Manning for allegedly aiding the enemy, supporters hail the 24-year-old as a war-crime whistle-blower.
Wikileaks has divided its trove of confidential documents into several categories: “Cablegate” for diplomatic cables; Iraq and Afghanistan incident reports belong to a section called “War Diaries;” and “Collateral Murder” is the title of a video of a July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike that killed eight people, including two Reuters photographers.
The military held what is called an Article 32 hearing last month to determine whether Manning should face a court-martial.
Manning is suspected of sharing the “Collateral Murder” video with Wikileaks, but witness testimony in Forte Meade, Md., last month established that the footage was not classified.
Military prosecutor Ashden Fein nevertheless claimed that its leak still aided the enemy because al-Qaida used it in their propaganda.
Investigating officer Paul Almanza recommended that Manning face all 18 specifications with which he has been charged. One of those charges carries a potential life sentence; the rest add up to 150 years in prison.
Manning’s defense attorney David Coombs asked Almanza to recuse himself from the hearing because of alleged bias.
In his civilian life, Almanza is a prosecutor for the Department of Justice, which has an ongoing investigation against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Coombs believes that the Justice Department wants to pressure Manning to plead guilty to build a case against Assange.
Manning’s supporters blasted Almanza’s alleged bias in their response to his decision Thursday.
“We’re disappointed but by no means surprised,” said Jeff Paterson, a lead organizer for the Bradley Manning Support Network. “The investigating officer showed no concern for the conflict of interest caused by his dual employment with the Justice Department, or the taint of bias arising from his commander-in-chief, President Obama, who publicly declared Manning to be guilty long before he ever had his day in court.”
Almanza has extracted guilty pleas from each of the six privates first class that have been the target of Article 32 hearings he headed in the past. Manning still denies wrongdoing.
The same day his client was recommended for court-martial, Coombs filed a request to depose witnesses whose testimony Almanza rejected at the Article 32 hearings.
Coombs argued that Almanza’s denials prevented him from effectively arguing that the leaks did not cause harm.
The three-page document, which is heavily redacted, does not identify the people whom the defense seeks to depose, but it describes the testimony that they would give anonymously.
One will testify “about the classification review of the three Apache gun videos that were sent to his Division by FORSCOM. Specifically, he will testify that the videos were not classified at the time of their alleged release. However, he will testify that he believes they should have been classified.”
During the Article 32 hearing, several witnesses testified about lax security in Manning’s division and inconsistent classification protocols. One witness said that certain nondisclosure agreements about classified material last as long as a century.
Five other witnesses would purportedly testify about classification determination and national security impact.
There has been no ruling yet on the defense requests.
Almanza sent his recommendation to Col. Carl R. Coffman.
A U.S. Army press release describes the lead-up to the court-martial process.
“The Special Court Martial Convening Authority will now review the investigating officer’s report and determine whether the charges should be disposed of at his level or be forwarded to Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, the General Court Martial Convening Authority for disposition at his level,” the release states.