Judge refuses to combine charges in WikiLeaks case

By The Associated Press

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — A military judge rejected a defense motion Thursday to consolidate some of the charges against an Army private accused in the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history.

Col. Denise Lind was still considering a defense motion to dismiss the most serious charge against Pfc. Bradley Manning – aiding the enemy – which carries a maximum life sentence. She said problems with a Fort Meade Internet connection had slowed her work on that matter and might delay her ruling until a later date.

Lind opened the pretrial hearing by rejecting the defense’s argument that the government had piled on several duplicative charges in an attempt to increase Pfc. Bradley Manning’s potential punishment. For example, the defense had argued that Manning’s alleged theft and transmission of Iraq war logs from a military database should have been charged as one offense, not two.

Lind said that a theft can be complete whether or not the stolen material is transmitted. She also cited the “voluminous records” involved as another reason the charges should not be dismissed or consolidated.

Lind said the defense may raise these issues again for sentencing purposes if Manning is convicted of those offenses.

Lind denied another defense motion Thursday seeking to dismiss a count on the grounds that it was improperly charged. That count alleges that Manning “wrongfully and wantonly” caused intelligence to be published on the Internet that he knew would be accessible to the enemy.

Lind also heard arguments on a government motion to preclude any discussion during the trial of whether Manning’s alleged acts did harm to U.S. interests. Prosecutors argued that the offense only requires the government to show that the leaks could have caused harm, not that they actually did.

In seeking dismissal of the “aiding the enemy” count, the defense argued Manning had no “evil intent” to help al-Qaida when he allegedly sent hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war reports and State Department diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning stated in an online chat with a confidant-turned-informant that he leaked the information because “I want people to see the truth.”

Prosecutors said they would need only to prove that Manning knew that the enemy would see the material and that he sent it without authorization.

Manning hasn’t entered a plea to any of the charges. He also hasn’t yet decided whether he will be tried by a judge or a jury. His trial is set for Sept. 21 through Oct. 12.

The 24-year-old Oklahoma native was ordered court-martialed after he was accused of downloading the documents, diplomatic cables and video clips, then sending them to WikiLeaks. He was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad when authorities say he copied classified material from government computers in late 2009 and early 2010.

The material WikiLeaks published included cockpit video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed a number of civilians, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The U.S. government says the civilian deaths were accidental.

Prosecutors acknowledged in court Wednesday that the helicopter video was not classified, although Manning allegedly got it from a Defense Department computer network intended for classified material. He is charged with “having unauthorized possession” of the video clip.

Manning has been in pretrial confinement since he was charged in May 2010. He has been held since last April at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

His earlier treatment at a Marine Corps base caused support for him to swell. The Quantico, Va., brig commander kept Manning confined 23 hours a day in a single-bed cell, citing safety and security concerns. For several days in March 2011, he was forced to sleep naked, purportedly for injury prevention, before he was issued a suicide-prevention smock.

Manning’s supporters have raised funds to place posters in the Washington Metro subway system this week portraying him as a whistleblower, patriot and hero.