(FORT MEADE, Md.) — After a week of testimony, PFC 1st class Bradley Manning’s fate for now lies in the hands of a military officer who will determine if he should face a court martial for releasing more than 700,000 confidential government documents to Wikileaks.
The seven-day Article 32 hearing came to a close Thursday after final arguments from both the defense and the prosecution. Although this hearing would not determine the guilt or innocence for Manning, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza’s recommendation will be sent to senior military officers who will determine whether the charges against Manning should proceed to a court martial.
A recommendation is expected to be made by Jan. 16, a date based on the right to a speedy trial. It is possible, however, that Almanza could request additional time because of the large amount of evidence.
In making his recommendation, Almanza will weigh the testimony presented this week, as well as more than 300,000 government pages of documents, chat logs and classified documents.
The defense began its brief closing arguments by asking Almanza to dismiss most of the charges against Manning, saying the government has “overcharged in this case.”
The most serious charge Manning faces is aiding the enemy; if he’s found guilty, it carries the death penalty. But prosecutors have said they will not request it and opt for a recommendation of life in prison.
David Coombs, Manning’s lead defense attorney, said the charge has no basis and was overblown.
Coombs accused Secretary Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials of overstating the harm the release of the documents has had, “claiming the sky is falling.” Coombs said, “The sky is not falling, the sky has not fallen, and the sky will not fall.”
He even went so far as to ask for Clinton to “come into the courtroom under the pains of perjury,” adding he “would enjoy that cross examination.”
The prosecution countered this claim during closing arguments with a video of al Qaeda urging “followers in the West to collect and archive Wikileaks” and that the “solution for jihadists is to head to the free Internet.”
Capt. Ashden Fine said that Manning “gave enemies unfettered access to those documents,” and his “absolute indifference” to classified information “is prejudicial and brings discredit upon the United States armed forces.”
Fine cited a PowerPoint presentation Manning gave when he was an intelligence analyst, where he pointed to the Internet as a common source of security leaks. Adding that as a trained all-source intelligence analyst, Manning “wrongfully and wantonly” gave information to Wikileaks knowing the enemy would receive it.
He said that Manning knew that “information on the Internet is helpful to the enemy, and not just declared enemies of the United States.” Fine said, “Information is accessible to all other enemies with Internet access.”
Coombs asked for the total dismissal of all charges related to unauthorized software, as Manning’s unit was a “lawless unit when it comes to information assurance.”
He also requested that the charges of publishing classified information on the Internet be reduced in number. If Almanza agrees with Coombs’ requests, that would mean the maximum punishment Manning could face would be 30 years.
Until a decision is made, it is most likely that Manning will be transferred back to Ft. Leavenworth, Kans. As an active duty Army soldier, Manning will continue to receive pay and benefits while in pre-trial confinement.
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