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Security Trumps Justice in Upcoming Manning Trial

As the pretrial concludes, 'Aiding the Enemy' charge stands while prosecutors drop 'Reykjavik-13'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Tuesday marked the final day in pretrial hearings in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning. (Credit: Reuters)Prosecutors will proceed with the charge that Pfc. Bradley Manning "aided the enemy" when the trial of the alleged whistleblower commences next week.

Tuesday marked the final day of pretrial hearings in the court martial of Manning during which attorneys for both sides and Colonel Denise Lind, who is presiding over the trial, issued a series of revisions for the upcoming trial.

During the hearing, Manning accepted as a "stipulation of fact" that the government has evidence that Osama Bin Laden had taken a "close personal interest" in the WikiLeaks materials. This "fact" was illustrated through a series of letters between Bin Laden and a member of al-Qaida—one of which included the Afghanistan "war logs" that were among the WikiLeaks disclosures.

Further, Lind issued a ruling Tuesday that the prosecution could use classified documents "within limits" to attempt to prove that the material Manning transmitted to WikiLeaks was potentially damaging to US interests.

The issue on how best to handle classified information throughout the trial has spurred some debate and prompted a "dry run" session after which Lind concluded it was "not possible to elicit coherently nuanced" testimony on classified information in open court and thus decided to close portions of the trial, independent blogger Kevin Gosztola reports.

"The over-riding interest in protecting national security over-rides the risk of miscarriage of justice," said Lind, who also added that it over-rode Manning's First Amendment rights.

Most notably, during Tuesday's proceedings military lawyers announced they were dropping one of the charges against him and would no longer seek to prove the US soldier was guilty of leaking the state department cable, known as "Reykjavik-13," which reportedly demonstrates the US's "bullying tactics against Iceland to accept austerity measures in the wake of the global financial meltdown."

The Guardian's Ed Pilkington reports:

[Manning] has pleaded guilty to a lesser offence relating to the leak of Reykjavik-13 and liable to a maximum of two years. The US government had sought to press further statutory charges on him that would have added up to an additional eight years on his sentence, but has now dropped the count.

However, the change may be "limited in significance," Pilkington adds, in light of the more serious accusation of "aiding the enemy." If Manning is found guilty of "assisting Osama bin Laden by making public information that could injure the US," he faces a potential life sentence with no chance of parole.

Pilkington continues: 

Should Manning be found not guilty to having aided the enemy, he still faces a further 20 counts carrying an overall maximum sentence of more than 150 years. At a minimum, the soldier has already pleaded guilty to lesser charges, of prejudicing the good order and discipline of the military by leaking information, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. 

The trial, which begins on June 3, will be the most high-profile prosecution by the Obama administration of a leak of state secrets. Since taking office in 2009, Obama has authorized more prosecutions of whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. 

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