|Many have rallied to Manning’s side, saying he was right to expose US wrongdoings [EPA]|
A private charged in the biggest leak of classified information in US history will face a general court martial, the army has said.
Major General Michael Linnington, commander of the Washington military district overseeing the prosecution of Private First Class Bradley Manning, announced the decision on Friday.
Linnington’s statement follows a six-week-long Article 32 hearing, during which army lawyers argued that Manning should face the general court martial, the most serious form of military trial.
The decision means that Manning will stand trial for allegedly giving more than 700,000 secret US documents and classified combat video to WikiLeaks.
The whistleblowing website published them online and assisted numerous media organisations in disseminating and explaining the secret material.
Manning accessed the files while serving as an intelligence analyst at Forward Operating Base Hammer, near Baghdad, during a deployment that lasted from late 2009 to mid-2010.
The 24-year-old Oklahoma native faces 22 counts, including theft of public property, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet, and aiding the enemy.
The latter charge carries the death penalty, but military prosecutors have said they will seek no more than life in prison.
Manning’s court martial has not yet been appointed a judge, who will then set out a schedule of hearings. His lead defence counsel, thus far, remains civilian lawyer David Coombs.
Defence lawyers say Manning was a troubled young soldier whom the army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material.
At a preliminary hearing in December, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and video of a deadly 2007 army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder”.
Manning’s lawyers countered that others had access to the private’s workplace computers.
They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the US armed forces.
The defence also claims Manning’s apparent disregard for security rules during stateside training and his increasingly violent outbursts after deployment were red flags that should have prevented him from having access to classified material.
Manning’s lawyers also contend that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.
In the December hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, prosecutors also presented excerpts of online chats found on Manning’s personal computer that allegedly document collaboration between him and WikiLeaks founder Julian
Federal prosecutors in northern Virginia are investigating Assange and others for allegedly facilitating the disclosures.
The Bradley Manning Support Group, which contends Manning heroically exposed war crimes, issued a statement calling his prosecution “fundamentally unjust”.
“This administration owes all Americans an honest explanation for their extraordinary retaliation against Bradley Manning,” said Jeff Paterson, one of the group’s lead organisers.