An investigating officer at Fort Meade military base in Maryland must now advise if he should face court-martial.
A decision is due in January, but could be delayed if more time is requested.
Arun Rath of our partner program FRONTLINE has been following the hearing.
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Lisa Mullins: The war in Iraq has had many legacies and that includes one of the biggest leaks of classified information in US history. Today, the pretrial hearing for Army Private Bradley Manning came to a close. Manning is the 24-year-old soldier who allegedly downloaded hundreds of thousands of secret US government documents and passed them on to Wikileaks. The hearing was held to determine if Manning should be court-martialed on 22 charges, including one that carries a sentence of life in prison. Arun Rath of our partner program FRONTLINE has been following the hearing. What happened today, Arun?
Arun Rath: Well, today was the closing arguments. Basically, both sides got to present their case. And what was peculiar about today is it was almost like both sides, the prosecution and the defense, were sort of talking past each other. The defense, the big headline is that they’re currently not going to make the argument that Bradley Manning was not the leaker, but their argument has to do with the fact that the security was lax, the documents might not have caused as much damage and that he should not have had access to them. They laid all that out. Then the prosecution laid out their case, laying out the evidence for the fact that Bradley Manning was the leaker. So it was almost like they were talking past each other about different arguments.
Mullins: Well, were there any major revelations that came out today?
Rath: The biggest probably would be we’ve heard hints about the contact between Julian Assange and Manning…
Mullins: He’s the head of Wikileaks.
Rath: The head of Wikileaks, and the prosecution in this case actually has chat logs between Manning and Assange, what they claim are chat logs between the two of them showing that there is direct contact. They also have a lot of forensic evidence which they’ve been showing for the first time in court of evidence that was on Bradley Manning’s computer…chat logs that he leaked a lot of forensic evidence that connects him with this. So their case against him in terms of being a leaker seems pretty watertight.
Mullins: The importance of the connection between Manning and Assange is what?
Rath: Is the distribution of these documents; first off they’re trying to establish that he had the documents, that he transferred them knowingly and that way they can come after him for these charges.
Mullins: So where does things go from here for Bradley Manning?
Rath: Well, right now the hearing is closed. The investigating officer will now take some time to evaluate the evidence. Both the testimony we’ve heard for the past six days as well as 300,000 pages of documents. So he’s got quite a task ahead of him. He’s scheduled to make his announcement for his recommendation on January 16, and then a board above him, basically a general will decide whether to go ahead with the full court-martial.
Mullins: And which of the charges are most incendiary? Which are the most serious?
Rath: Well, one that has gathered the most attention, and I think that Manning’s lawyer in fact went after the government for over-charging in this case, is bringing up the espionage act. That makes a lot of people nervous because obviously there are a lot of journalists like myself who get confidential documents from sources. And if just the act of coming into possession of a classified document is itself a crime, that would raise a whole lot of issues beyond Wikileaks for the whole of journalism really.
Mullins: Okay, so Bradley Manning himself, is he likely to see a court-martial in 2012? What happens now?
Rath: Well, usually there’ll be a pretty pro-forma thing. This is almost certainly that the recommendation will be for a court-martial, and almost always the presiding officer, the general in this case, follows the recommendation. The one odd thing that’s hanging out there, and this is coming from Bradley Manning’s defense, they’re claiming that the government wants basically to get a plea deal with Bradley Manning to get him up on these charges, which include the possibility of the death penalty (although the prosecution says they will not go for that), and then use him essentially, and this is in the words of his lawyer, to go after Julian Assange, to go after Wikileaks. There’s been nothing from the government to corroborate that. There is a grand jury investigating Wikileaks and Julian Assange, and that they did violate the espionage act, but it’s purely been speculation from his lawyer. But he’s hanging that out there that maybe they’re doing this for a plea deal. So the only thing that I think would get in the way of a possible court-martial if there was some sort of deal, but that’s all speculation from his side at this point.
Mullins: So the parties are back in court, potentially in the middle of January. In the meantime where is Bradley Manning?
Rath: He will stay behind bars at Fort Meade in Maryland through the holiday and until the proceedings start up again.
Mullins: All right, talking to us about the trial of Bradley Manning, Arun Rath, reporter with our partner program, FRONTLINE. Thank you, Arun.
Rath: You’re welcome, thank you.
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Bradley Manning’s Article 32 hearing — essentially a pre-trial that determines the need for a court-martial — was an odd, stop-start affair, punctuated by frequent, long recesses and disputes over evidence and witnesses.
Manning’s lead lawyer, Iraq war veteran and retired JAG officer David Coombs, led an aggressive defense, which began with his turning the usually pro-forma opening session into an extended debate on the impartiality of the investigating officer, Lt. Col Paul Almanza. (In an Article 32 hearing, the investigating officer essentially acts as the presiding judge.)
It was as if a judge were being cross-examined by a defense attorney, as Coombs grilled the investigating officer on his career as a prosecutor and work for the Department of Justice.
The debate was fruitless: The investigating officer decides whether or not to recuse himself, and after a day of hearing arguments about his alleged bias, Lt. Col. Almanza announced his decision to stay on.
Read tweets about the Manning hearing