Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of being behind the largest leak of state secrets in US history, is expected this week to speak publicly for the first time since his arrest in May 2010.
The alleged source of the massive WikiLeaks dump of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables and war logs is expected to be called as a witness at the latest pre-trial hearing opening in Fort Meade army base in Maryland on Tuesday afternoon. His direct address to the court will be a poignant event that will be followed closely by both his supporters, who see him as a heroic whistleblower, and his detractors, who regard him as a traitor.
Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning support network said it would be a very telling moment. “Until now we’ve only heard from Bradley through his family and lawyers, so it’s going to be a real insight into his personality to hear him speak for himself for the first time.”
The hearing, slated to last until Sunday, also marks a crucial stage in the legal proceedings in the run-up to a full court martial scheduled for 4 February.
Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, is seeking to have any eventual sentence imposed on the soldier radically reduced or even entirely negated on the grounds that he was subjected to pre-trial punishment while he was confined at Quantico marine base in Virginia.
Manning’s harsh treatment during the nine months he was held in the brig at Quantico, from 29 July 2010 to 20 April 2011, have become something of a cause célèbre, with several influential people and organisations castigating the military authorities for subjecting him to a form of torture.
The treatment led to a wave of international indignation, from figures as diverse as the UN rapporteur on torture, Amnesty International, leading law scholars and PJ Crowley, then spokesman at the US state department, who resigned in protest.
Manning’s lawyers are expected to make the case to the military judge presiding of the pre-trial proceedings, Colonel Denise Lind, that commanders at the brig in Quantico ignored expert medical advice in subjecting the soldier to prolonged solitary confinement. Coombs has requested to call eight witnesses in total, though it is not clear how many of those have been cleared by Lind.
According to the Manning support network, the first witnesses are likely to be the Quantico commanders in charge of the brig during the nine months in which Manning was held there.