Wikileaks: Bradley Manning Faces 22 New Charges, Possible Death Penalty

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MSNBC

Wikileaks: Bradley Manning Faces 22 New Charges, Possible Death Penalty

'Aiding the enemy' is most serious of new counts filed against private in WikiLeaks case

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Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube

WASHINGTON — Following an intensive seven-month investigation, the Army on Wednesday filed 22 additional charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of illegally downloading tens of thousands of classified U.S. military and State Department documents that were then publicly released by WikiLeaks, military officials tell NBC News.

The most serious of the new charges is "aiding the enemy," a capital offense which carries a potential death sentence.

Pentagon and military officials say some of the classified information released by WikiLeaks contained the names of informants and others who had cooperated with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, endangering their lives.

According to the officials, the U.S. military rounded up many of those named and brought them into their bases for protection. But, according to one military official, "We didn't get them all." Military officials tell NBC News a small number of them still have not been found.

Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, did not immediately return a call from msnbc.com for comment.

But Coombs wrote on his blog Wednesday that it was uncertain whether any additional charges filed against his client would stick.

"The decision to prefer charges is an individual one by PFC Manning's commander," he wrote. "The nature of the charges and the number of specifications under each reflects his determination, in consultation with his Staff Judge Advocate's office, of the possible offenses in this case. Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial.”

Manning, 23, was first charged on July 6, 2010, with illegally downloading and transferring defense information to an "unauthorized source," when he worked as a military intelligence analyst in Baghdad. He was also charged on accusations that he obtained 150,000 classified State Department cables, many of which were also eventually released by WikiLeaks.

The charges filed Wednesday include 16 specifications of wrongfully obtaining classified material for the purpose of posting it on the Internet, knowing that the information would be accessed by the enemy. Other charges include the illegal transmission of defense information and fraud.

While conviction on the charge of "aiding the enemy" could result in the death penalty, military prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on that charge alone. But the presiding military judge would have the authority to dismiss the prosecution's recommendation and impose the death penalty.

Like the earlier charges, the charges made no specific mention of WikiLeaks.

Pentagon and military officials also report that investigators have made no direct link between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Manning remains in custody at the U.S. Marine Brig at Quantico south of Washington, D.C., awaiting court martial proceedings.

Coombs, Manning's lawyer, has complained that his confinement conditions — in maximum custody under a “prevention of injury” watch — are unduly harsh and undermine his right to a fair trial. Manning has been confined in a 6-by-12-foot cell with a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet for about 23 hours a day, Coombs has said.

Anti-war groups, a psychologist group as well as filmmaker Michael Moore and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg have called for Bradley to be released from detention. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have condemned the Obama administration's imprisonment conditions.

James Eng of msnbc.com contributed to this report.

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