News / USA

US Considers Court Martial of Soldier Tied to WikiLeaks

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland, December 21, 2011.
Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland, December 21, 2011.
Mary Alice Salinas

The U.S. military is considering whether to court-martial an Army analyst blamed for the biggest leak of classified information in American history.  During a preliminary hearing that ended on Thursday, the government argued that Private First Class Bradley Manning passed thousands of sensitive documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, endangering security and diplomatic sources.

The case against 24-year-old Army private Bradley Manning is now before a military officer who will decide if Manning should face a military trial on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy.

During a six-day hearing, military prosecutors argued the intelligence analyst abused the nation’s trust when he gave WikiLeaks thousands of secret documents knowing they would be released and viewed by the nation’s enemies.

Security analyst Michael O’Hanlon downplays that argument. “This was secret information, not top secret, not code word.  That’s part of why so much of it was available in ready form in a couple of big files.  Because it was considered to be sensitive but not earth shattering," he said.

Many of the leaked documents include diplomatic cables that bluntly describe interactions with foreign officials and world leaders, sometimes painting an unflattering picture of them.

Manning supporters describe him as someone seeking to release the truth. “He’s a heroic whistleblower who shed light on a lot of things that we don’t know about," said Nathan Fuller, a Manning supporter.

Defense lawyers describe Manning as a troubled man who suffered from a gender-identity crisis.  And Manning’s lawyers blame the military for failing to suspend his access to classified data even though he had showed signs of being troubled.

Security analysts say the massive information leak complicates diplomacy throughout the world by casting doubt on whether classified information that is written will remain secret. “There are already people who are being a lot less open in their communications even with each other within the government because of this, so in that regard there is a certain amount of damage he has done that continues," said O'Hanlon.

The presiding military officer hearing the case has until January 16 to decide if Manning should face a court martial.  If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

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