WASHINGTON: Bradley Manning, the American soldier who handed thousands of secret US government files to WikiLeaks, will finally go on trial on Monday — more than three years after he was arrested in Iraq.
Manning, who faces a possible 154-year jail sentence, has offered to plead guilty to several offenses but he denies prosecutors’ most serious charge — that he knowingly aided the enemy, chiefly Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.
The trial follows an exhaustive series of preliminary hearings that outlined the government’s case against Manning, 25, over leaks of diplomatic cables and war logs to the anti-secrecy website that caused huge embarrassment to the United States and its allies.
The soldier’s supporters argue that his actions shone a light in the darkest corners of the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as exposing the reasoning behind American foreign policy decisions.
His opponents, however, contend that he is a traitor whose behavior wantonly endangered people’s lives around the world, including US citizens.
The lengthy nature of the case has revolved around the complexity of the charges that Manning faces and his treatment in custody since being detained in May 2010 while serving as a military intelligence analyst near Baghdad.
His legal defense team has successfully argued that he was subjected to unduly harsh detention methods from US military personnel and, consequently, he will receive a 112-day reduction of any eventual jail sentence.
However, the US Army private recently admitted he was the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures and he appears certain to be found guilty.
By offering to plead guilty to 10 offenses, including breaches of military discipline and good conduct, he could be sentenced to 20 years in jail. But if he is convicted of the more serious charges he faces life imprisonment.
While the case has served as a cause celebre for civil liberties advocates in the United States, the government argues that Manning’s actions helped the nation’s enemies in a political era defined by the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.
His courts-martial, which is expected to last 12 weeks, is taking place at Fort Meade military base in Maryland.
Although dozens of reporters are covering the trial, some evidence will be given behind closed doors for national security reasons.
The government’s refusal to publish legal documents during the pre-trial proceedings against Manning was heavily criticized by media outlets, leading to allegations of unnecessary official secrecy.