Lawyers for imprisoned U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning plan to call up to 50 witnesses at a pretrial military hearing next month that is expected to air much of the government’s evidence for charges that Manning illegally provided hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.
The preliminary hearing, scheduled to begin Dec. 16 at Fort Meade, Md., will mark Manning’s first appearance in a courtroom since he was arrested in Iraq in May 2010. The hearing could last up to five days.
If allowed to testify, some defense witnesses would speak to the role that government whistle blowers have played to expose wrongdoing, Jeff Paterson, one of the organizers of the Bradley Manning Support Network, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. He said other witnesses would scrutinize the government’s use of computer forensics to collect evidence against Manning.
Manning’s supporters plan to protest outside the hearing. They will use some of the nearly $392,396 raised for his defense fund to pay for protest signs, newspaper ads and other publicity, as well as travel costs for Manning’s family, Paterson said. Manning’s legal fees have totaled $122,000, according to the website couragetoresist.org, which tallies donations to his defense fund.
Manning is accused of illegally copying classified military documents and diplomatic cables from a secret military computer network, and providing them to WikiLeaks. The website, founded by Julian Assange, made the documents public in 2010 and 2011.
Manning faces more than two dozen charges, including transmitting defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, and “wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet.” He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted in a court-martial.
During the pretrial hearing, called an Article 32 hearing in the military justice system, Manning’s defense attorneys are entitled to call witnesses and to cross examine prosecution witnesses.
The purpose of the hearing is to “evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case,” Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, wrote on his blog. He did not return calls for comment.
Manning’s supporters consider him a whistle blower who exposed illegal actions by the U.S. military, including targeting civilians and handing detainees to Iraqi forces with the knowledge they may be tortured.
“Bradley Manning, if he is found to have been the source of this, he will have our gratitude. He will have my admiration. He is a hero,” Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst who leaked a top secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers back in 1971, said on the conference call Tuesday.
Manning is held at the Army Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was transferred there in April after advocates complained about conditions of his incarceration at the Marine brig at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.