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Rocky Start to Testimony in Bradley Manning Hearing

FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - At a Saturday hearing to determine whether Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning will face court-martial proceedings for allegedly divulging top-secret information, a special agent testified by telephone that a grisly video obtained by Wikileaks was not in fact classified.

Pfc. Manning is spending his 24th birthday today (Saturday) defending charges that he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay.

Manning also allegedly leaked a video of a July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike that depicts a military helicopter shooting and killing eight men. Wikileaks called the video "Collateral Murder." Two of the dead were Reuters war correspondent photographers.

Witness testimony established today that the video is not classified.

The first witness on Saturday, Special Agent Toni Graham, initially tried to testify by cellphone. She works for the 102nd division of Criminal Investigation Command, commonly known as CID.

After the connection-garbled testimony was paused for a 10:30 a.m. recess, Graham explained that her original affidavit presents bad information that she got from a confidential informant.

Manning's military attorney, Maj. Matthew Kemkes, said Graham's affidavit was the primary basis for his client's detention.

Also on Saturday, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals declined to recuse the investigating officer tasked with leading this weekend's proceedings, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza.

Manning's civilian lawyer, David Coombs, had demanded Almanza's withdrawal for the alleged appearance of bias, but Almanza shot down the effort Friday.

In his civilian life, Almanza works as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice, which has its own ongoing investigation against Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals said Saturday morning that Almanza's civilian employment will not impact his impartiality in finding whether Manning can be court-martialed for "aiding the enemy," which carries a potential for execution.

Military prosecutors say they will seek life imprisonment.

A Washington-based nonprofit, the Death Penalty Information Center, says that the U.S. military all but abolished the death penalty in 1984, the last time a soldier was executed. While it is still on the books, it has not been used since that time.

Activists from the Bradley Manning Support Network and Occupy Wall Street announced that they will demonstrate outside the military base and attend the hearing. They will also be joined by Daniel Ellsberg, the man who 40 years ago shared the Pentagon Papers with The New York Times. Disclosure of those documents eventually shifted public opinion about the Vietnam War.

The U.S. military says that Manning's alleged leaks put soldiers in danger.

Coombs, the civilian defense attorney, said that the government has not produced any evidence to support that claim and that Almanza has struck down all defense requests for witnesses who could test that assertion.

Jennifer Robinson, an attorney for Wikileaks and Assange, asked a military appeals court to grant her full access to the proceeding. The court has not yet ruled on this request.

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