In the end, April 10, 2013 could turn out to have been a truly auspicious day for Bradley Manning.
On Wednesday of last week, trial judge, Colonel Denise Lind ruled that the U.S. government would now have to prove that the WikiLeaks source had "reason to believe" that disclosing what they consider 'state secrets' would be both harmful to the United States -- and -- beneficial to nation states under the influence of al-Qaeda or other extremist groups wishing to do harm to the U.S.
From the Guardian U.K.:
The ruling from Colonel Denise Lind, sitting in a military court at Fort Meade in Maryland, raises the burden of proof for the prosecutors who are trying to have the US soldier jailed for life for his actions in passing hundreds of thousands of classified state documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning has pleaded guilty to the leak, but only to lesser charges that carry an upper sentence of 20 years in military jail.Manning pleaded not guilty to the most egregious charge of 'aiding the enemy' which could conceivably mean a death sentence. The government has stated that instead it would seek a life sentence in military custody.
Manning is set to go to full court martial on 3 June, with the trial expected to last for 12 weeks. The scale of the WikiLeaks breach of US intelligence – including war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, videos of US helicopter attacks, as well as a mountain of diplomatic cables from around the world – coupled with the seriousness of the charges, will ensure the trial will be the most high-profile prosecution of a leaker in a generation.In a separate, more portentous decision, Judge Lind has now given the prosecution team permission to call witnesses to attest that Manning's disclosure actually reached "the enemy." The ruling delivered a blow to Manning's civilian lawyer, David Coombs, who had tried to preclude evidence related to end use of both the leaks and videos on grounds that they were irrelevant and even prejudicial to Manning.
But the judge found that it was relevant, particularly to the key prosecution accusation that the soldier "aided the enemy". She listed a number of hostile groups as "the enemy" in this case, including al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula, and an unspecified number of other organisations referred to only by code name.The ruling opened the proverbial door to an appearance of "John Doe" as a witness for the prosecution team. "John Doe" in this case is purported to be an unnamed member of the 'Seal Team Six', the Naval special ops team responsible for killing Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan back in 2011.
Lind stressed that to be found guilty, Manning would have to be shown beyond reasonable doubt to have knowingly dealt with an enemy of the US. The crime could not be inadvertently or accidentally committed, she said.
During the raid that killed bin Laden, "John Doe" reportedly found and then removed three items of digital media at the compound where the team found bin Laden hiding. Analysts found that the items contained unspecified WikiLeaks material reportedly requested directly by bin Laden.
Both the Defense Dept. and the CIA have demanded measures that would guarantee the anonymity of the witness, including having him appear in disguise even in closed session at a secret location with no media or members of the public present at the time. The judge has yet to rule on the finalization of those conditions.
But Manning's defence lawyers are protesting about the restrictions on cross-examination and discovery, arguing that they cannot properly represent their client if they are withheld access to the witness.According to Judge Lind, a two-day-long "dry-run" of a sample witness testifying and being submitting to cross examination will be held in an upcoming private session early next month. Reportedly, the purpose for the experimental session is to find out if there are alternatives to holding all testimony deemed 'sensitive' in a secret session.
The question of how to handle classified information during the trial continues to exercise Lind and both sets of lawyers. Paradoxically, though most of the classified material that will be referred to in testimony is now in the public domain courtesy of WikiLeaks, it is still considered a US state secret and any mention of it has to be redacted or discussed in closed court.
The judge also expressed displeasure at the recent unauthorized recording of the defendant's personal statement to the court published on the internet, which is a violation of court martial rules.
"I have not ordered people in the media operation center to be screened for recording devices, and I hope I will not have to."It's good to know the judge is insistent on the government actually proving its case, especially in a military tribunal carried out with esoteric rules.
I certainly hope Manning benefits from this ruling.
He deserves his fair day in court.