Bradley Manning trial over WikiLeaks documents begins

UK may hold talks with Ecuador on Assange dilemma

Military police stand guard at the entrance of a military court during the court-martial of US Army Private Bradley Manning  at Fort Meade in Maryland. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Military police stand guard at the entrance of a military court during the court-martial of US Army Private Bradley Manning at Fort Meade in Maryland. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

 

The American soldier accused of providing more than 700,000 secret documents to the WikiLeaks website went on trial today charged with the biggest leak of classified information in US history.

Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is an intelligence analyst who faces a possible life sentence without parole if convicted for the 2010 leak that outraged the United States government.

Manning wore a dress black uniform and sat at the defense table between his lawyers at his court-martial in Maryland, where he faces 21 counts, including the most serious one of aiding the enemy, and prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917.

The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said last month she would close parts of the trial to the public to protect classified material.

She began the trial by asking Manning a number of procedural questions, including whether he was willing to have the case decided by a judge rather than a jury and whether he was satisfied with his defense team. “Yes, your honor,” replied Manning, who was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq.

He was charged with downloading intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos and forwarding them to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy website. WikiLeaks began exposing the secrets the same year, stunning diplomats and US officials who said the leaks endangered lives.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange denies the allegations.

Manning pleaded guilty in court in February to 10 lesser charges that he was the source of the WikiLeaks release. He said he had released the files to start a domestic debate on the military and on foreign policy in general. Prosecutors rejected the pleas and are pursuing their original charges. Civil liberties groups have argued that the court is restricting access to the case by withholding court documents and other information about proceedings from the public.

Manning’s court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 50 km northeast of Washington, is expected to run until at least late August. Prosecutors have said they expect to call more than 100 witnesses.

The courtroom, which can seat about 40 people, was crowded on today with media and onlookers, including Cornel West, a civil rights and political activist who has taught at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. “I’m here to have solidarity with my devoted brother Bradley Manning,” Mr West said outside the courtroom. “I’m going to be here as often as I can. My spirit will be here. He is a courageous young brother.”

Also at Fort Meade, WikiLeaks stationed a truck in the parking lot with a sign reading, “Mobile information collection unit.”

Meanwhile Britain is considering holding talks with Ecuador over the future of Julian Assange, the Foreign Office said today, in the first sign of a possible solution to the year-long diplomatic standoff over the WikiLeaks founder.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said it was considering a request made by Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino to meet Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague when Mr Patino visits London later this month.

“We’re considering that request. We hope the visit will contribute to our joint commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to this issue,” the spokeswoman said.

Reuters