, WASHINGTON, Jan 12 – A US investigating officer has recommended that Bradley Manning be court-martialed for allegedly funnelling hundreds of thousands of classified US documents to WikiLeaks, the US Army said on Thursday.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, the investigating officer, “concluded that the charges and specifications are in the proper form and that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged,” the US Army Military District of Washington said in a statement.
“He recommended that the charges be referred to a general court-martial.”
The charges include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing it is accessible to the enemy, theft of public property or records, transmitting defence information and computer fraud.
If convicted, Manning, an army private before the WikiLeaks furore erupted, could be sentenced to life in prison for what authorities have described as one of the most serious intelligence breaches in US history.
The recommendation followed a seven-day pre-trial hearing last month presided by Almanza to determine if there was sufficient evidence to try the 24-year-old private from Oklahoma.
Defence attorneys argued at the conclusion of those proceedings that the charges should be reduced. But Almanza recommended that he be referred to a military court for trial on all 22 counts against him.
Manning is accused of giving WikiLeaks a massive trove of US military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, 260,000 classified State Department cables, Guantanamo detainee assessments and videos of US air strikes.
Trained on various intelligence systems, Manning served in Iraq from November 2009 until his arrest the following May.
The anti-secrecy website began releasing the military documents in July 2010. It dumped the entire archive of diplomatic documents in September 2011, causing huge embarrassment to Washington.
Army investigators told last month’s hearing that contact information for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, military reports, cables and other classified material had been found on computers and storage devices used by Manning.
“We’re disappointed but by no means surprised,” said Jeff Patterson, a leader of a support network backing Manning.
“The investigating officer showed no concern for the conflict of interest caused by his dual employment with the Justice Department, or the taint of bias arising from his commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, who publicly declared Manning to be guilty long before he ever had his day in court.”
In his closing statement in the pre-trial hearing, Manning’s civilian defence attorney David Coombs said the government “overcharged in this case,” and he urged Almanza to reduce the charges to just three counts that would carry a total of 30 years in prison.
The defence portrayed Manning as suffering during his deployment near Baghdad from emotional problems stemming from his homosexuality, which his superiors did nothing to remedy.
Jailed for more than a year and a half, Manning complained of being placed in solitary confinement, of bullying by guards, and of being subjected to an ultra restrictive regime at the US military prison at Quantico, near Washington.