By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun
7:08 PM EST, January 12, 2012
An Army officer recommended Thursday that Pfc. Bradley Manning, the former intelligence analyst accused of giving hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, be court-martialed on charges of violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy.
Manning, 24, is accused of sending raw field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies around the world and a video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad to be published online.
If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, who presided over a preliminary hearing for Manning last month at Fort Meade, concluded that reasonable grounds exist to believe that Manning committed the offenses alleged.
Almanza forward his recommendation Thursday to Col. Carl R. Coffman, the special-court-convening authority for the Military District of Washington. Coffman will decide whether the charges should be forwarded to district commander Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington.
The final decision on ordering a court-martial, or military trial, rests with Linnington. There was no word Thursday on whether such a proceeding would be held at Fort Meade.
During the Article 32 hearing last month, Manning's attorneys sought to portray him as a troubled young man who struggled with gender identity, was isolated from his fellow soldiers and should not have been given access to the classified materials.
Army prosecutors presented computer forensic investigators who testified that materials uploaded to WikiLeaks came from computers on which Manning worked.
Manning, who lived in Potomac before he enlisted in the Army in 2007, attended the hearing but did not speak. It was his first public appearance since his arrest in Iraq in May 2010.
During his detention, his case became a cause celebre among anti-war activists, who say the footage of the 2007 Apache helicopter attack that he is alleged to have released appears to show evidence of a war crime.
The attack in Baghdad left 12 dead, including a Reuters journalist and his driver. In the video, released by WikiLeaks as "Collateral Murder," the American helicopter crew can be heard laughing and referring to Iraqis as "dead bastards."
Manning's supporters say whoever released the footage is a hero who should be protected as a whistle-blower. They expressed disappointment, but not surprise, with the court-martial recommendation.
"These charges contradict the administration's own impact assessments, which showed that these WikiLeaks revelations posed no threat to our national security," Kevin Zeese, a legal adviser to the Bradley Manning Support Network, said in a statement.
"But since the Obama administration appears dead set on railroading Bradley Manning through their show trial, we can't expect them to allow such critical evidence or testimony to be considered. This evidence could have shown that these materials were improperly classified," Zeese said.
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