First, today’s the first day alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning formally confronted the military justice system outside his high security jail cell.
The second development took place in Britain, where WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange received word he’d been granted an appeal on his challenge of a Swedish extradition request.
Bradley Manning’s first day in court
Manning was brought to Ft. Meade, Maryland, home of the super-secret National Security Agency, for the first round of a legal process that could place him behind bars for life.
The occasion was an Article 32 hearing, the equivalent of a preliminary hearing in a California criminal proceeding, where the defense can challenge evidence to be presented by the prosecution in the subsequent court martial.
From The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington and Matt Williams:
Security was exceptionally – some say bizarrely – tight at the opening on Friday of Manning’s pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland. Though a small number of seats in the military courtroom were reserved for members of the public, rigid reporting restrictions remained in place that prevent any live coverage of the proceedings.
The full charge sheet against Manning was released for the first time. It includes a total of 23 counts against the soldier, the most serious of which is that Manning knowingly gave “intelligence to the enemy, though indirect means”.
The idea that WikiLeaks constituted an “enemy”, or a conduit to an enemy of the US state, will in itself be subject of much debate and legal argument. A second charge follows a similar theme, and accuses of Manning of causing information to be published “having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accessible to the enemy”.
The hearing opened with a challenge to the military’s investigative officer by defense attorney David Combs, calling for Lt. Col. Paul Almanza to recuse himself on the grounds that he was blocking the defense from presenting witnesses challenging the military’s claim that the leak of State Department and military documents had caused irreparable harm to national security.
Scott Shane reports for the New York Times:
“All this stuff has been leaked,” Mr. Coombs said. “A year and a half later, where’s the danger? Where’s the harm?”
Colonel Paul Almanza said he did not believe he was biased because he does not currently supervise criminal cases in his job at the Justice Department and his work involves child abuse and obscenity, not national security. But he noted that military rules require him to recuse himself if a “reasonable person” might perceive bias, and he broke off the hearing at midday to consider the matter, with a decision possible Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the crowd of about 50 people in the unadorned courtroom, including reporters and relatives of Private Manning, caught their first glimpse of the soldier, who turns 24 on Saturday and faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
Private Manning, a slight figure in black-rimmed glasses, a crew cut and camouflage uniform, answered routine questions from the investigating officer in a quiet but steady voice. “Yes, sir,” he said, when asked whether he was satisfied with his lawyers.
He is accused of aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act by providing WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, military field reports and war videos. His supporters, who planned demonstrate Friday outside Fort Meade, hail him as a whistleblower who sought to expose wrongdoing.
Julian Assange wins a round in British court
From Agence France-Presse:
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted permission to appeal against extradition from Britain to Sweden over rape allegations and a hearing will start on February 1, a court said Friday.
“The Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal and a hearing has been scheduled for two days, beginning on 1 February 2012,” said a statement from the Supreme Court, the highest court in England.
The decision means Assange will spend a second Christmas at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter in Norfolk, eastern England.