- Published on Thursday, 28 February 2013 23:21
FORT MEADE (Maryland): A US Army private accused of aiding the enemy by slipping secret documents to the WikiLeaks website faces questions on Thursday from a judge weighing his offer to plead guilty to some of the charges.
Private First Class Bradley Manning was expected to take the witness stand before military judge Colonel Denise Lind in a pre-trial hearing before his court martial, set to begin June 3.
The 25-year-old Army intelligence officer was prepared to read aloud from a 35-page statement defending himself in the espionage case, but only after Lind rules on how much of it he will be allowed to verbalize.
Manning will enter a formal plea to the 22 charges against him during the hearing. He previously offered to plead guilty to various lesser charges in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including the unauthorized possession and willful distribution of information accessed in the Combined Information Data Networks, a military database, for both Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has said he will plead not guilty to the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which is a violation of the federal Espionage Act, among others.
Manning, who has been jailed for more than 1,000 days, could face life imprisonment if convicted of that top charge.
He is accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including U.S. diplomatic cables and various military reports.
U.S. government secrets exposed by WikiLeaks beginning in 2010 stunned diplomats across the globe and outraged U.S. officials, who said damage to national security from the leaks endangered U.S. lives.
Under a ruling last month by Lind, Manning would have any eventual sentence reduced by 112 days to compensate for the markedly harsh treatment he received during confinement at Quantico Marine Base. While at Quantico, Manning was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day with guards checking on him every few minutes.
Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010 and charged with downloading thousands of intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos while with the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade intelligence operation in Iraq and forwarding material to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.