In Manning case, sparring over digital evidence

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FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — Military prosecutors and defense lawyers tangled Monday over digital evidence against an Army intelligence analyst charged with massively leaking secret U.S. data to WikiLeaks, while his supporters fumed that the public was shut out as the hearing dealt with classified but widely publicized information.

As the court-martial hearing outside Washington for Pfc. Bradley Manning entered its fourth day, the government had called 13 witnesses and was expected to ask up to eight more to testify. The defense would then present its case. Expected to last several more days, the hearing is to determine whether Pfc. Manning should be court-martialed on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, the 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., could face life in prison.

The opening segments of Monday’s testimony focused on a forensic examination of Pfc. Manning’s two workplace computers. In the most potentially damaging evidence so far, a witness said Sunday he found more than 10,000 downloaded diplomatic cables and other sensitive information on a computer Pfc. Manning used.

But pressed under cross-examination, digital-crimes investigator David Shaver said that some of those cables didn’t match any of those published by WikiLeaks. The damaged file could be opened only with special tools, which could explain why those documents weren’t released, he said.

In camouflaged Army fatigues and dark rimmed-glasses, Pfc. Manning has remained calm throughout the hearing, listening intently to the witnesses and occasionally taking notes. He hasn’t spoken in the past three days, except for the few occasions he has leaned over to consult with his civilian lawyer, David Coombs, always after switching off the defense-table microphone for privacy.

Pfc. Manning is accused of illegally leaking a trove of secret information that surfaced on WikiLeaks, a breach that rattled U.S. foreign relations and, according to the government, imperiled valuable military and diplomatic sources.

Defense lawyers argue the leaked material did little or no damage to U.S. interests. But a decision by the presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, to remove spectators and reporters for a half-hour of the hearing Monday morning augured poorly for Pfc. Manning’s defense.

By ruling the diplomatic and military information in question should somehow remain secret, even though it has been published by media around the world, Col. Almanza effectively undermined the defense argument that no harm was done and the information might as well be public.

Pfc. Manning’s supporters fumed. The defense already has appealed for Col. Almanza to be removed from the case because of his civilian job with the Justice Department, which is conducting a separate investigation of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange.

Col. Almanza “is seeking to prevent journalists and the public from reporting on testimony related to materials that are already in the public domain,” lamented a group called the Bradley Manning Support Network. It also complained that unnamed “relevant government agencies” were not included in the blackout.

A member of that group, Daniel Choi, was ejected from the area Monday. Mr. Choi had been cleared through security and was seen standing outside in a group that included Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsburg, presumably to attend court. But Mr. Choi was taken back into a security trailer, where he remained with military police for at least 10 minutes before he was escorted away. A security official would say only that Mr. Choi had done something he had been asked not to do.

Mr. Shaver’s testimony Sunday illustrated how the government connected the dots in its case accusing Pfc.  Manning of committing traitorous leaks from his perch as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad.

Mr. Shaver told the hearing that, in addition to thousands of State Department cables, he found several versions of a deadly 2007 helicopter attack video and secret assessments of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, terrorist detainees. He also said he discovered evidence that someone had used the computer to streamline the downloading of cables with the apparent aim of “moving them out.”

All the material was linked to the username “bradley.manning” or Pfc. Manning’s user profile, Mr. Shaver said. And the other computer was used to conduct scores of online searches for the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, he said.

Pfc. Manning’s lawyers have neither acknowledged nor denied that the intelligence analyst was behind the leaks.

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