Did Bradley Manning Expose War Crimes or Commit War Crimes?

HAGERSTOWN, Md. – Military District of Washington Commander Major General Michael Linnington is the Convening Authority (CA) in the case of U.S. vs Pfc Bradley Manning. He has taken the recommendation of the Article 32 Investigating Officer (IO) and referred all charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning to a General Court-martial. Manning is a low-ranking intelligence analyst charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.

This means Pfc. Manning will stand trial for allegedly giving more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents and classified combat video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication.

Manning is a 24-year-old native from Crescent, Oklahoma. He faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. A General Court-martial has the power to impose the death penalty. The Convening Authority has said that it has taken the death penalty off the table. So, the maximum punishment that Manning faces if convicted is life imprisonment.

A judge who is yet to be appointed will set the trial date. The military judge will immediately face a “speedy trial” issue. Under the UCMJ, Uniform Code Of Military Justice, an accused must be brought to trial within 120 days of the preferral of charges.

Manning’s lead defense counsel, is a civilian attorney, David Coombs.

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 while he was stationed there from late 2009 to mid-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. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.

The DADT (Don’t ask, Don’t Tell) policy of the military will loom large as part of the defense strategy. It is possible that the Defense Witness List would include the names of such people as retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

On February 2, 2010, Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that they fully support President Obama’s decision to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevented openly gay people from serving in the military. “It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “No matter how I look at the issue…I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens…For me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

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. Manning’s lawyers also contend that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.

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

Federal prosecutors in northern Virginia are investigating Assange and others for allegedly facilitating the disclosures.

The Bradley Manning Support Group, which contends Manning heroically exposed war crimes, issued a statement calling his prosecution “fundamentally unjust.”

“This administration owes all Americans an honest explanation for their extraordinary retaliation against Bradley Manning,” said Jeff Paterson, one of the group’s lead organizers.

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