Bradley Manning court martial opens
Bradley Manning faces life in prison as his trial gets under way, three years after he was charged with providing reams of highly-sensitive material to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in the biggest leak of classified information in US history.
Since then, the US Army private first class has admitted to giving the material to WikiLeaks and pleaded guilty to charges that would send him to prison for up to 20 years. The US military and the Obama administration were not satisfied and pursued a charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.
The trial on that most serious charge and 20 other offences has started for the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst from Oklahoma. The judge took up procedural matters and opening statements were expected to begin later.
Manning, a slightly built soldier, sat calmly in the courtroom in his dark green dress uniform as the trial began. He chose to have his court-martial heard by a judge instead of a jury. It is expected to run all summer.
In February, Manning told military judge Army Colonel Denise Lind he leaked the material to expose the American military's "bloodlust" and disregard for human life in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he did not believe the information would harm the US and he wanted to start a debate on the role of the military and foreign policy.
The judge accepted his guilty plea to reduced charges for about half of the alleged offences, but prosecutors did not did not and moved forward with a court-martial on charges including violations of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
About 20 Manning supporters demonstrated in the rain outside the visitor gate at Fort Meade today. They waved signs reading "free Bradley Manning" and "protect the truth" while chanting "What do want? Free Bradley. When do we want it? Now."
US officials have said the more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables sent to WikiLeaks endangered lives and national security. The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010 documented complaints of Iraqi detainee abuses; a US tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and America's weak support for the government of Tunisia.
Last month, the government agreed to accept Manning's guilty plea for a lesser version of one count, involving a single diplomatic cable summarising US embassy discussions with Icelandic officials about the country's financial troubles.
Manning also acknowledged sending WikiLeaks unclassified video of a 2007 US Apache helicopter attack that killed civilians, including a Reuters photographer. An internal military investigation concluded the troops reasonably mistook the camera equipment for weapons, WikiLeaks dubbed the video "Collateral Murder".