Court Martial for Bradley Manning in Wikileaks Case?

PHOTO: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, right, is escorted from a security vehicle to a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Dec. 22, 2011.Patrick Semansky/AP Photo
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, right, is escorted from a security vehicle to a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Dec. 22, 2011.

After a week of testimony, Pvt. Bradley Manning's fate for now lies in the hands of a military officer who will determine if he should face a court martial for releasing more than 700,000 confidential government documents to Wikileaks.

The seven-day Article 32 hearing came to a close today after final arguments from both the defense and the prosecution. Although this hearing would not determine the guilt or innocence for Manning, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza's recommendation will be sent to senior military officers who will determine whether the charges against Manning should proceed to a court martial.

A recommendation is expected to be made by Jan. 16, a date based on the right to a speedy trial. It is possible, however, that Almanza could request additional time because of the large amount of evidence.

In making his recommendation, Almanza will weigh the testimony presented this week, as well as more than 300,000 government pages of documents, chat logs and classified documents.

The defense began its brief closing arguments by asking Almanza to dismiss most of the charges against Manning, saying the government has "overcharged in this case."

The most serious charge Manning faces is aiding the enemy; if he's found guilty, it carries the death penalty. But prosecutors have said they will not request it and opt for a recommendation of life in prison.

David Coombs, Manning's lead defense attorney, said the charge has no basis and was overblown.

Coombs accused Secretary Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials of overstating the harm the release of the documents has had, "claiming the sky is falling." Coombs said, "The sky is not falling, the sky has not fallen, and the sky will not fall."

He even went so far as to ask for Clinton to "come into the courtroom under the pains of perjury," adding he "would enjoy that cross examination."

The prosecution countered this claim during closing arguments with a video of al Qaeda urging "followers in the West to collect and archive Wikileaks" and that the "solution for jihadists is to head to the free Internet."

Capt. Ashden Fine said that Manning "gave enemies unfettered access to those documents," and his "absolute indifference" to classified information "is prejudicial and brings discredit upon the United States armed forces."

Fine cited a PowerPoint presentation Manning gave when he was an intelligence analyst, where he pointed to the Internet as a common source of security leaks. Adding that as a trained all-source intelligence analyst, Manning "wrongfully and wantonly" gave information to Wikileaks knowing the enemy would receive it.

He said that Manning knew that "information on the Internet is helpful to the enemy, and not just declared enemies of the United States." Fine said, "Information is accessible to all other enemies with Internet access."

Coombs asked for the total dismissal of all charges related to unauthorized software, as Manning's unit was a "lawless unit when it comes to information assurance."

He also requested that the charges of publishing classified information on the Internet be reduced in number. If Almanza agrees with Coombs' requests, that would mean the maximum punishment Manning could face would be 30 years.

Coombs cited Manning's Gender Identity Disorder, a constant topic throughout the hearing, and "the military's lack of response to that (as a) smack in the face of justice."

He read a letter Manning had written to his sergeant saying, "I joined the military hoping the problem would go away." Coombs then read three memos the sergeant had written where he highlighted Manning's instability.

"I assess that he is salvageable if he receives, and actively participates in, psychotherapy immediately," Coombs quoted the sergeant as writing.

The prosecution, however, steered clear of the topic, using the majority of its closing argument as a capstone to the evidence presented, citing forensic evidence linking Manning with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

"Manning was a United States intelligence analyst, who we trained and trusted," Fine said. "He used that training to defy our trust, and to systematically release over 700,000 documents."

As an analyst Manning had top secret clearance and was required to sign seven non-disclosure agreements.

Coombs concluded his arguments by stating that the "hallmark of a democracy is the ability of government to be open with the public" and that "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

He said that if individuals break the law because "they believe what they are doing is just, and they want to uncover unjust (and) arouse the public over injustice, they are really expressing the very, very highest respect for the law."

Until a decision is made, it is most likely that Manning will be transferred back to Ft. Leavenworth, Kans. As an active duty Army soldier, Manning will continue to receive pay and benefits while in pre-trial confinement.