A key pretrial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of giving classified material to the website WikiLeaks, which then made it public, began Tuesday in a case that highlights the government’s resolve to keep war and diplomatic material secret.
Manning, who has been charged on 22 counts, faces life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge. His court-martial is scheduled for February.
A former intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010, Manning is accused of sending hundreds of thousands of logs about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
The hearing at a military court at Ft. Meade outside Baltimore is scheduled to run through Sunday. Manning is expected to testify at some point. It would be the first time he has spoken publicly about the case and the conditions of his detainment since his arrest in 2010.
The defense will argue that all charges should be dismissed because Manning was subjected to “unlawful pretrial punishment,” according to a post on the website of his supporters, the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Manning will get a chance to testify about his treatment. His lawyers argue that he was illegally punished by being put alone in a cell for nine months at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. Military judges can dismiss all charges if pretrial punishment is particularly egregious, but that rarely happens, though the time in incarceration can be credited toward the sentencing.
“At this extremely important hearing, Bradley’s lawyer David Coombs ... will present evidence that brig psychiatrists opposed the decision to hold Bradley in solitary, and that brig commanders misled the public when they said that Bradley’s treatment was for ‘Prevention of Injury,’ ” his supporters said.
Manning has offered to take responsibility by pleading guilty to reduced charges. The military has not ruled on that offer.
Manning was in the brig from July 2010 to April 2011. The military argues the treatment there was proper since he classified as a maximum-security detainee. He was later moved to Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., where he was reevaluated and given a medium-security classification.
A United Nations investigator called the conditions of Manning’s imprisonment cruel, inhuman and degrading, but stopped short of calling it torture.