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Manning defers plea in WikiLeaks case

FORT MEADE —An Army private chose not to enter a plea Thursday to charges he made the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.

Pfc. Bradley Manning

Pfc. Bradley Manning also put off a choice of whether to be tried by a military jury or judge alone. He was arraigned before Col. Denise Lind at Fort Meade near Baltimore. A trial date has not been set.

Manning faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy. That charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The others carry a combined maximum of 150 years. He allegedly gave the anti-secrecy website more than 700,000 documents and video clips.

Defense lawyers say Manning was troubled and shouldn’t have had access to classified material.

Manning, 24, is a native of Crescent, Okla. He has been locked up since May 2010.

At a preliminary hearing in December, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”

Manning’s lawyers countered that others had access to Manning’s workplace computers in Iraq. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier while U.S. armed forces still barred gays from serving openly. The defense also claims Manning’s apparent disregard for security rules during stateside training and his increasingly violent outbursts after deployment were red flags that should have prevented him from having access to classified material. They also contend that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.

In the December hearing at Fort Meade prosecutors presented excerpts of online chats found on Manning’s personal computer that allegedly document collaboration between him and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.