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'Gay struggles influenced Manning'

Lawyers for the Army private charged in the biggest leak of classified information in US history say he was influenced by his struggles with being a gay soldier as protesters rallied this weekend in his support across the US.

The military hearing continued to determine whether Pfc Bradley Manning will stand trial at a court-martial for allegedly slipping a trove of government secrets to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

The release included Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men.

The Obama administration says the released information has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America's relations with other governments. Manning's lawyers counter that much of the information that was classified by the Pentagon posed no risk.

The hearing began on Friday at Fort Meade outside Washington and could run several more days. The Army says it may take several more weeks for the commander of the Military District of Washington to decide whether Manning will be court-martialed.

Major General Michael Linnington may choose other courses, including administrative punishment or dismissal of the 22 counts against him, including aiding the enemy. He also could add more charges based on evidence produced at the hearing.

Manning, who turned 24 on Saturday, could face life in prison if convicted.

More than 100 people gathered outside Fort Meade for a march in support of Manning on Saturday, some holding signs declaring "Americans have the right to know. Free Bradley Manning" and "Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime".

Among the first issues to arise during weekend testimony was whether Manning's sexual orientation is relevant to the case against him. His lawyers maintained that his status as a homosexual in the military before the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" contributed to mental and emotional problems that should have barred him from having access to sensitive material.

The defence revealed that Manning had written to one of his supervisors in Baghdad before his arrest, saying he was suffering from gender-identity disorder. He included a picture of himself dressed as a woman and talked about how it was affecting his ability to do his job and even think clearly.

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