FORT MEADE — An attorney for an Army private charged with leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information asked a military judge Thursday to dismiss the charges against his client, arguing the government bungled the turning over of documents in the case.
The request came during a hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning at a military courtroom at Fort Meade, Md. Military prosecutors say Manning, a 24-year-old Oklahoma native, downloaded and sent to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents and diplomatic cables. The military says Manning indirectly aided al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by giving information to the WikiLeaks site.
Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material. They say the leaked material did little or no harm to national security.
On Thursday, military prosecutors and Manning’s attorney David Coombs disagreed about the extent of the government’s obligation to turn over documents in the case before trial. Coombs argued the government has to turn over a broad range of documents, including ones that are classified, but he has not received information he requested. He said he was asking that charges against his client be dismissed because the government has “hopelessly” messed up the document turnover in the nearly two years his client has been incarcerated.
Capt. Ashden Fein, a military prosecutor, told the judge presiding over the case that the government had tried to produce “as much as possible” and that it had complied with the rules. In at least one case, he said, the defense was engaging in a “fishing expedition” for information. And he said classified documents needed to be treated differently.
The government will get a chance to respond to Coombs’ motion before the military judge presiding over the case, Col. Denise Lind, rules on it.
Manning has been charged with 22 counts including aiding the enemy, which could result in life imprisonment.
Military prosecutors say the documents Manning sent to WikiLeaks included nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and a video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”
Manning is expected to learn during hearings scheduled for Thursday and Friday when his trial will start. He has so far declined to enter a plea to the counts he faces. He also put off choosing whether to be tried by a military jury or judge alone.