US soldier Manning goes on trial over WikiLeaks scandal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 June, 2013, 3:57am

The American soldier accused of providing more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks went on trial yesterday charged with the biggest leak of classified information in US history.

Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is an intelligence analyst who faces a possible life sentence without parole if convicted for the 2010 leak that outraged the US government.

Manning sat at the defence table between his lawyers at his court-martial in Maryland, where he faces 21 counts, including the most serious one of aiding the enemy, and prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917.

The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said last month she would close parts of the trial to the public to protect classified material.

Lind yesterday began the trial by asking Manning a number of procedural questions, including whether he was willing to have the case decided by a judge rather than a jury and whether he was satisfied with his defence team.

"Yes, your honour," replied Manning, who was arrested in May 2010. He was charged with downloading intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos and forwarding them to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy website. It began exposing the secrets the same year, stunning US officials who said the leaks endangered lives.

Captain Joe Morrow, a prosecutor, said during his opening statement that Manning dumped classified documents on to the Internet and into the enemy hands. Manning pleaded guilty in court in February to 10 lesser charges that he was the source of the WikiLeaks release. He said he had released the files to start a domestic debate on the military and on foreign policy.

Prosecutors rejected the pleas and are pursuing their original charges.

Civil liberties groups have argued the court is restricting access to the case by withholding court documents and other information from the public.

Manning's court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 50km northeast of Washington, is expected to run until at least late August.