U.S. Urged to Drop Top Count Against Manning

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – Amnesty International called upon military prosecutors to drop a controversial “aiding the enemy” charge against WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning.
     Manning faces 22 charges connected with the disclosure of more than 700,000 military and diplomatic files, including battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. embassy cables, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians.
     With the defense having rested its case last week, court reconvenes Monday to hear arguments on whether to dismiss several of the counts against Manning before the government presents rebuttal case.
     But Amnesty International called upon prosecutors to withdraw the charge on their own before the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, considers dropping it for them.
     “The government’s case for ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous, and that’s not surprising,” said Widney Brown, the senior director of international law at Amnesty International, in a statement. “What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the Internet – whether through WikiLeaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times – can amount to ‘aiding the enemy.'”
     The statute has not been used to prosecute a leak to the press since the Civil War case of Pvt. Henry Vanderwater, who served three months of hard labor for giving an Alexandra, Va., newspaper a roll call of Union officers.
     Manning, on the other hand, faces a possible life sentence for the identical charge.
     His attorney David Coombs wrote in a motion to dismiss that the Army never taught his client to view WikiLeaks as a supposed information depot for U.S. adversaries.
     “In fact, Mr. [Troy] Moul, who trained PFC Manning, testified that he had never heard of WikiLeaks prior to PFC Manning’s arrest in this case,” the motion states. (Emphasis in original)
     One of the files that Manning disclosed was a Pentagon counterintelligence report titled “WikiLeaks.org – An Online Reference for Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?”
     Coombs noted in his motion that the author of the report never answered that question, which the paper characterized as an “intelligence gap.”
     “If the U.S. government does not have actual knowledge of the enemy’s use of the WikiLeaks website, then neither can PFC Manning,” the motion states.
     Prosecutors also accuse Manning of embezzling four secret “databases” when he sent WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic files.
     The young soldier’s lawyers believe he can beat these charges on a technicality.
     “In short, it seems like the government wants the word ‘database’ to encapsulate everything under the sun – records, copies of records, information in records, and the exclusive possession of information contained in records,” Coombs wrote. “The problem for the government is that it simply charge PFC Manning with stealing ‘databases’ – not records, not copies, nor information, or any variation thereof.”
     The government’s argument to the contrary is “schizophrenic,” Coombs added.
     Whereas “embezzlement” generally implies the loss of a stolen item, Manning only downloaded copies of files that remained in the government’s possession, Coombs said.
     Though prosecutors have also accused Manning of swiping the so-called “Global Address List,” a spreadsheet of Army email addresses, Coombs said Manning actually downloaded a subset of the emails.
     Trial evidence showed that Manning, as a former intelligence specialist, has open access to the wide array of files that he downloaded.
     To download the materials in bulk, Manning used a file-grabbing software called Wget.
     Prosecutors claim that, by using that program, Manning exposed himself to a possible 10-year sentence for “exceeding authorized access” to his computer.
     This charge is also novel, Coombs said.
     “It would be a sad day indeed if a decade in jail could hinge exclusively on what program an accused used to download information he was otherwise entitled to access and otherwise entitled to download,” the motion states.
     The military has not publicly released its counterarguments.
     The parties will argue these issues on Monday afternoon.

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