Army Private Bradley Manning, accused of leaking a massive trove of U.S. government secrets to WikiLeaks, will have his first day in court next month as he attends a military hearing that will determine if he should be court-martialed. It will be the first public appearance for the former Army intelligence analyst since he was detained almost a year and a half ago on suspicion of having passed hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and other classified information to the website.
The most serious of the charges Manning faces is "aiding the enemy," which is a capital offense, but Army prosecutors told Manning's attorneys when they filed the charges in March that they would not be seeking the death penalty for the charge. If he is found guilty, Manning could face life in prison.
In a statement, the Military District of Washington said an Article 32 hearing has been scheduled for Manning on December 16 at Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning will turn 24 on December 17.
Article 32 hearings are the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, where military prosecutors present evidence and witnesses that could lead to a court-martial. Unlike civilian proceedings, Article 32's are open to the public and defense attorneys have the right to cross-examine witnesses and to present evidence. The investigating officer presiding over the hearing will then make a recommendation as to whether the case should proceed to a court martial.
Word of Manning's upcoming court appearance first appeared in a blog posting by Manning's lead attorney, David Coombs. Coombs said he expects the Article 32 proceedings to last five days and that it would be open to the public with the exception of when classified materials are presented.
Coombs said "the sole focus" of Manning's legal defense team will be their commitment to "providing the best representation for PFC Manning during this upcoming hearing."
Manning has not been seen publicly since he was detained in Baghdad in May 2010 on suspicion that he had leaked classified materials to WikiLeaks. At the time of his detention, Manning was originally suspected of having leaked video to WikiLeaks of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq on a group of suspected insurgents that included some civilians.
A later investigation charged Manning with having illegally downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified military documents and State Department cables that he then provided to the website. The publication of the documents created an international firestorm.
Manning is now being housed at a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His earlier stay at the Marine Brig at Quantico, Virginia generated a steady stream of controversy from Manning's supporters who argued that he had been subjected to stressful conditions.