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Pre-Trial Hearing Begins for Soldier Tied to Wikileaks

Private First Class Bradley Manning (File)

Private First Class Bradley Manning (File)

The U.S. Army soldier accused of leaking thousands of classified and sensitive documents to the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks made his first public appearance in court Friday. In a pre-trial hearing expected to last five days, prosecutors contend that Private First Class Bradley Manning should be tried in a military court.

At a vigil outside the base, supporters raised their voices for Manning as his pre-trial hearing began.

For Manning's supporters, the case goes beyond the allegations he leaked thousands of documents - documents that often provided a blunt and unflattering picture of U.S. views of world leaders' private and public lives.

For them, the case is also about the treatment Manning has received, even before his trial began.

Former military officer Dan Choi was among those at the rally. He said that even if Manning did what he is accused of, he was trying to do what he thought was right.

"A soldier who did nothing but stand for the values of America, not tried yet, but held in solitary confinement for a year and a half. In solitary confinement, stripped, interrogated, not able to see the sunlight or his family or his friends. Nobody can say that justice can be served," said Choi.

Max Obuszewski believes Manning is being used to set an example.

"Why did they put Bradley Manning in a Quantico brig [jail]? Keep him in a cell 23 hours a day? Have him strip naked when he comes out, etc, etc, etc.? They did it because they want to let other people know, especially military and other people in the government. Don't blow the whistle. You don't know what we're going to do to you," said Obuszewski.

Human rights groups have raised concerns and the United Nations' torture investigator is preparing to release a report on Manning's treatment.

In April of this year, Manning was moved from Quantico to a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The Pentagon has rejected claims that the decision had anything to do with his treatment at Quantico.

The Obama administration has criticized the release of the classified information and documents that were eventually posted on the anti-secrecy Wikileaks web site. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the leaks put people's lives in danger and threaten national security.

"I think that in an age when so much information is flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that some information, which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, has to be protected," said Clinton.

Manning's pre-trial hearing is expected to conclude early next week. At the end, the presiding officer will decide if Manning, who turns 24 on Saturday, should face a court martial [military trial]. His defense attorney on Friday argued the hearing officer has a conflict of interest. The defense has argued the leaks did no damage.

In addition to the documents that Manning is alleged to have leaked, he also is suspected of leaking a video of a U.S. helicopter crew in Iraq that shows soldiers gunning down 12 men. It was reported later that a Reuters news photographer and his driver were among those killed.

The video is one example frequently cited by supporters that shows that if Manning did what he is accused of, he was just trying to reveal the truth.

But military analyst Michael O'Hanlon disagrees.

"There is no defense for leaking tens of thousands of files. There maybe is for leaking a few hundred if you feel that the government has gone way off track and you've got someway to prove it. In that case, the way our system works, you better be ready to pay the price if you feel that strongly," said O'Hanlon.

If convicted, the price Manning ultimately may have to pay is life in prison. He faces several charges including aiding the enemy, which is a capital offense. But prosecutors say they are not seeking the death penalty.

Timeline: Key Dates in Wikileaks Cases

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