FORT MEADE, Maryland (AP) — A military judge refused to dismiss the most serious charge against U.S. soldier Bradley Manning — aiding the enemy — over his giving thousands of pages of classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
The charge is punishable by up to life in prison without parole. The judge denied defense motions to acquit him of that charge and a computer fraud charge, saying the government had presented some evidence to support both charges.
Manning showed no reaction to the rulings. The trial is moving toward closing arguments, possibly next week.
To convict him of aiding the enemy, the government must prove Manning gave WikiLeaks intelligence with “evil intent” and “actual knowledge” that what he leaked would be seen by al-Qaida members.
Prosecutors produced evidence that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden obtained digital copies of some of the leaked documents WikiLeaks published. The judge said prosecutors also produced evidence that Manning knew from his training and other military documents, that “it must be presumed foreign adversaries will view” anything posted on the WikiLeaks website.
The government also charged Manning with espionage and theft.
Manning has said he leaked the material to provoke public discussion about what he considered wrongdoing by U.S. troops and diplomats. The material included video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. A military investigation concluded the troops reasonably mistook the photography equipment for weapons.
Critics said the judge’s refusal to drop the charges is a blow to whistleblowers.
“The government is equating all leakers with traitors, and they’re not,” Boston College Law School professor Mary-Rose Papandrea said in a written statement. “There are very important differences between those who send information to the enemy with the intent of aiding the enemy and those people who release information to the public with the intent of informing the public debate.”
Amnesty International called the charge of aiding the enemy “ludicrous” and said it should be withdrawn.
Manning is charged with 22 counts. He has pleaded guilty to reduced versions of nine espionage and computer fraud counts, essentially admitting violations of less-serious military laws, and to a military infraction prohibiting wrongful storage of classified information. He faces up to 20 years in prison for those offenses. Prosecutors accepted one of those pleas, involving a computer fraud charge, but are still trying to convict him of the original charges on the other counts.
Manning chose to be tried by a judge, rather than a jury.