Bradley Manning, the twenty-four year old Army private accused of leaking thousands of classified documents, including footage of a helicopter raid that killed innocent civilians in Iraq, is one step closer to a full military court martial this afternoon.
Agence France-Presse reports:
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, the investigating officer, "concluded that the charges and specifications are in the proper form and that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged," the US Army Military District of Washington said in a statement.
"He recommended that the charges be referred to a general court-martial."
The charges include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing it is accessible to the enemy, theft of public property or records, transmitting defense information and computer fraud.
If convicted, Manning, an army private before the WikiLeaks furor erupted, could be sentenced to life in prison for what authorities have described as one of the most serious intelligence breaches in US history.
Supporters of Bradley Manning, including his attorney, David Coombs, were disappointed, but not necessarily surprised. As Ed Pilkington reports for The Guardian:
They have raised the relatively harmless nature of the WikiLeaks documents, the army's incompetence, lack of security at the forward operating base outside Baghdad where Manning was working as an intelligence analyst, and neglect towards Manning from his supervisors as possible mitigating arguments.
Jeff Patterson of the Bradley Manning support network said he was disappointed by the move towards a court martial – though "far from surprised. I sat in that courtroom and watched a Department of Justice employee pretending to be an impartial judge." [...]
Patterson also objected to the way that the investigating officer at the pre-trial hearing had allowed the prosecution to present all its desired witnesses, but had barred all but a few requested by the defence.
Supporters of Manning recently raised funds to erect a billboard in Washington in order to raise awareness of the case. “Free Bradley Manning,” reads the billboard, with the tagline: “Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime.” According to the Washington Post:
The billboard has been conveniently placed along the route from Washington to Fort Meade, where Manning faced a pretrial hearing last month and where he is expected to appear to hear the investigative officer’s recommendation to a convening authority. [...]
A similar billboard was previously erected in the Kansas City area, not far from Fort Leavenworth, where Manning was held after being moved from a Marine brig at Quantico. Paterson said that the Kansas sign was helpful in building support for Manning and helped bolster rallies in his defense.
The billboard in Washington cost $16,000 for the month, Paterson said. It is located near 1240 New York Ave NE.