The United States Army private responsible for the biggest intelligence leak in US history will finally be tried in a military court starting Monday after more than three years of pretrial detainment.
The court-martial of Private first class Bradley Manning will begin in Ft. Meade, Maryland this week and is slated to run through the summer. Manning, 25, could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the more than 20 counts he’s been charged with by Army prosecutors.
US authorities arrested Manning in May 2010 and accused him of sending hundreds of thousands of sensitive government files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Earlier this year Manning admitted to sharing the documents, including State Department diplomatic cables and military war logs, and pleaded guilty to a number of lesser counts carrying a maximum sentence of only 20 years. Prosecutors say those files benefited the operations of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, however, and are asking for life in prison.
Dozens of witnesses are expected to be called during the trial, including a handful of military personnel whose testimonies will be conducted behind closed doors to protect the sensitive nature pertaining to Manning’s alleged crimes. Pretrial hearings in the case have been conducted off and on at Ft. Meade since late 2011, but Manning himself has only had the opportunity to address the court at length on a few occasions, including in February when he testified to leaking the documents.
Speaking of the Iraq and Afghan war logs that were leaked by Manning, he said at that hearing, “I believe and still believe that these tables are two of the most significant documents of our time.”
During Saturday’s rally in Maryland, former Defense Department staffer Daniel Ellsberg said, “There would be tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq right now and many others would have died if Bradley Manning had not revealed atrocities.”
Ellsberg, like Manning, was charged with violating the Espionage Act after he gave military documents to the New York Times in 1971 that became known as the Pentagon Papers and has been credited with many for helping end the Vietnam War. Manning “saved American lives” by going to WikiLeaks, Ellsberg said.
A vigil for Manning is planned for early Monday outside the gates of Ft. Meade, and supporters that have traveled from around the world to attend the proceedings hope to secure a seat in the courtroom during the first day of hearings. The Army has already set aside 12 weeks for the hearing and acknowledged last week that hundreds of media organizations requested credentials to cover the trial.