Bradley Manning Defense Challenges Charge of 'Aiding the Enemy'

Approximately 20 supporters of PFC Bradley Manning spilled over both sides of a small courtroom at Fort Meade, Md., the venue for a pre-trial hearing in the WikiLeaks case this afternoon at which Manning's defense argued for dismissing charges against Manning.  

About half of the Manning supporters had "truth" emblazoned across their shirts. Although their shirts spoke for them, at the very end of the hearing a few voices made their opinions audible.

A man yelled out, "Thank you, Bradley," followed by, "Please free Bradley Manning."

One woman yelled, "I think the military should go on trial."  Then another joined in, saying, "We need to know what our government's doing."

It was unclear if Manning, 24, acknowledged his supporters.

Manning is charged with having provided hundreds of thousands of classified military reports, diplomatic cables and video clips to WikiLeaks while working as  an intelligence analyst during a deployment to Baghdad. WikiLeaks then posted much of the information on the Internet.

Earlier on Wednesday, the presiding judge in the case denied a defense motion that all the charges against Manning be dismissed. 

The afternoon session focused on defense motions to dismiss a charge of aiding the enemy.

Manning's defense counsel, David Coombs, argued that the charge of aiding the enemy was unreasonable.

"Because the enemy had access to Internet and may go to the website, they are indirectly aiding the enemy?" he asked. "Most common-sense knowledge people would know the enemy uses the Internet."

Coombs said the charge should be dismissed on the grounds of vagueness. He argued that if the court interprets the law to say someone doesn't need to have intent to get to the enemy, then soldiers would not have to know they are committing a  crime.

Coombs also accused government prosecutors of broadly interpreting what aiding the enemy means with regard to Internet chats.  He said they could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment right to free speech.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice's definition of aiding the enemy says that a perpetrator, "without proper authority, knowingly … gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly."

The prosecution said Manning did, in fact, know that the enemy, which was previously defined as al Qaeda, would access the government secrets on WikiLeaks.

During Manning's pre-trial "Article 32? hearing in December, the government presented evidence that included a Powerpoint presentation in which the former Army intelligence analyst depicted WikiLeaks as a way the "enemy" obtains information.

Coombs criticized the government for allegedly piling "on offenses to increase the sentence."

"Now, the maximum punishment is in the stratosphere, due to the way you [the government] charged it," Coombs said.

He requested four charges be dismissed because the specifications were unreasonable and a duplication of other charges against Manning.

The charge of aiding the enemy carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. If convicted of the other charges he  faces, Manning could face more than 150 years in prison.

Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the case, expects to have decisions on both motions Thursday morning.

The day will then turn to addressing the prosecution's motion on the actual harm of the leaks.