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Gov’t close to resting case vs. accused leaker

FORT MEADE — The government neared completion of its case against the Army intelligence analyst blamed for the biggest leak of U.S. secrets in American history as the prosecution and defense wrangled over which parts of the proceedings should be public and private.

The preliminary hearing against alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning restarted Tuesday at an Army installation outside Washington, with the prosecution expected to call its final six witnesses. The defense will then likely call three witnesses, followed by closing arguments.

Then, a military officer will weigh whether to recommend that the young private be court-martialed, at which point he could face life in prison.

Manning is accused of illegally leaking a trove of classified data to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks, a breach that rattled U.S. foreign relations and, according to the government, imperiled valuable military and diplomatic sources.

Lawyers for the 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., are employing a three-pronged defense: The troubled young private should never have had access to classified material, workplace security was inexplicably lax and the leaked information caused little damage to national security anyhow.

It’s unclear whether any of the arguments will hold sway. But Manning, in camouflaged Army fatigues and dark-rimmed glasses, has appeared to take in the proceedings calmly.

During recesses, Manning has leaned back and sat casually in his chair, chatting with his defense team and gesturing with his hands. He has occasionally smiled. When attorneys re-enter the courtroom, he sits up attentively.

Spectators and reporters were removed from the hearing Tuesday morning at the defense’s request, as the sides discussed with presiding officer Lt. Col. Paul Almanza whether testimony from a woman Manning allegedly assaulted in Baghdad should be open to the public. The private session follows closed-doors portions of the proceedings Monday that were demanded by the prosecution and decried by Manning’s supporters as the case delved into classified but widely publicized information.

‘Are you familiar with WikiLeaks?’

Until Monday, the defense largely focused on painting Manning as an emotionally troubled gay man serving during the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, and arguing that the classified material proved harmless in the open. Manning’s lawyers have yet to acknowledge or deny his responsibility for the leaking of hundreds of thousands of U.S. war and diplomatic cables and a classified military video of an American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men.

In a back-and-forth on the digital case against Manning, the prosecution said evidence showed that Manning communicated directly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It also released a text file purportedly written by Manning that was meant to accompany some 500,000 battlefield reports found on a data card he owned.

“This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day,” Manning wrote, according to digital-crimes investigator David Shaver.

Investigators also pointed to a May 2010 exchange between Manning and a mathematician named Eric Schmiedl.

“Are you familiar with WikiLeaks?” Manning allegedly asked.

“Yes, I am,” Schmiedl wrote.

“I was the source of the July 12, 2007, video from the Apache Weapons Team which killed the two journalists and injured two kids,” Manning wrote, according to the prosecution.

The closing arguments could come as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. Almanza will then recommend to the commander of the Military District of Washington whether Manning should be court-martialed. It could still take several weeks for a decision on whether he will be tried on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could face life in prison.