Manning’s lawyers asked the judge at pre-trial hearings this week to dismiss the most serious charge facing their client, arguing the government must drop the count unless it can prove the US Army private had “evil intent” to help Al-Qaeda when he allegedly passed files to WikiLeaks.
Otherwise, defence lawyers argue, the government’s case implies any soldier could be prosecuted for the offense of “aiding the enemy” if they spilled secrets online or discussed sensitive information with news reporters.
Prosecutors counter that Manning’s intent is not at issue and that the government only needed to prove that the intelligence analyst knew Al-Qaeda would see the leaked the information on the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks site.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Manning’s civilian counsel, David Coombs, insisted that under the government’s interpretation, a soldier could face the charge simply for telling a Washington Post reporter about high suicide rates, low morale or pervasive post-traumatic stress disorder in his unit without authorization.
The 24-year-old Manning faces a possible life sentence if convicted on the aiding the enemy charge, known as article 104 in the military justice code.
Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks between November 2009 and May 2010, when he served as a low-ranking intelligence analyst in Iraq.
Manning has yet to enter a plea in the case after spending more than 700 days in confinement.
The Welsh-born US army intelligence analyst was transferred a year ago from a military prison at Quantico, Virginia – where he had been imprisoned since July 2010 – to another in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
During Manning’s eight months of solitary confinement at Quantico, he was subjected to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” according to a UN special rapporteur.
The WikiLeaks document dump embarrassed the US government, and officials said the leaks threatened national security.
But supporters view Manning as a political prisoner and praise WikiLeaks as a vital whistleblower uncovering government secrecy.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, is also weighing defence motions asking for some of the other 22 counts to be tossed out or consolidated, after Manning’s lawyers alleged the prosecution had “over-charged” their client.
“Bradley Manning has now spent over 700 days in pre-trial confinement, in clear violation of his right to a speedy trial,” said Kevin Zeese, a legal adviser from the Bradley Manning Support Network.
“Through their own incompetence – whether deliberate or not – the Pentagon’s lawyers are only exacerbating an unjust persecution of a whistle-blower.”