Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

WikiLeaks attempt to cut sentence

Bradley Manning is due to hear the verdict in his secrets leak trial (AP)

Lawyers for whistleblower soldier Bradley Manning are seeking to reduce his potential sentence by having some of his convictions merged.

Their applications were revealed as the sentencing phase of Manning's court-martial began at Fort Meade, near Baltimore. The sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue until August 23.

The motions seek to merge two of the six espionage counts and two of the five theft counts of which Manning was convicted Tuesday. All of the counts involve Manning's leak of Afghanistan and Iraq battlefield reports. If the judge agrees to merge the counts, it would mean Manning faces up to 116 years in prison instead of 136 years.

The 470,000 reports were contained in two separate databases but contained similar material. Military prosecutors said they would call as many as 20 witnesses for the sentencing phase. The government said as many as half of the prosecution witnesses would testify about classified matters in closed court. They include experts on counter-intelligence, strategic planning and terrorism.

The judge prohibited both sides from presenting evidence during trial about any actual damage the leaks caused to national security and troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but lawyers will be allowed to bring that up at sentencing.

The release of diplomatic cables, warzone logs and videos embarrassed the US and its allies. US officials warned of dire consequences in the days immediately after the first disclosures in July 2010, but a Pentagon review later suggested those fears might have been overblown.

The judge also restricted evidence about Manning's motives. Manning testified during a pre-trial hearing he leaked the material to expose military "bloodlust" and diplomatic deceitfulness, but did not believe his actions would harm the country. He did not testify during the trial, but he could take the stand during the sentencing phase.

The verdict denied the government a precedent that freedom of press advocates had warned could have broad implications for leak cases and investigative journalism about national security issues.

Whistleblower advocates and legal experts had mixed opinions on the implications for the future of leak cases in the Internet age. The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said the verdict was a chilling warning to whistleblowers, "against whom the Obama administration has been waging an unprecedented offensive," and threatens the future of investigative journalism because intimidated sources might fall quiet.

However, another advocate of less government secrecy, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, questioned whether the implications will be so dire, given the extraordinary nature of the Manning case.

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