The Army is preparing to hold a pre-trial hearing that for the first time will disclose the government’s case in detail against the soldier accused of disseminating thousands of classified documents that were aired on the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
A spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington at Fort McNair, which has jurisdiction over the proceedings, said the investigative hearing, known as an Article 32, will be held “in the Washington area.”
Now at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, prison, Pfc. Bradley Manning will not be held in the brig at the Marine base in Quantico, Va. His treatment there stirred a wave of protest from his civilian lawyer and supporters who view him as a hero. Army officials did not disclose where the soldier will be held.
The defense, prosecutors and intelligence agencies have been sparring over what can be disclosed in open proceedings in a case involving the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
“We’re in the process of putting our finishing touches on our media plan for it,” said the Army spokeswoman, adding that the yet-to-be-scheduled hearing will be open to the press. She said it is command policy to ask the news media not to publish the the names of military personnel involved in the case.
An Article 32 is typically presided over by a military officer who takes evidence and then recommends to a superior convening authority whether charges should be dismissed or referred for a court-martial.
A source close to the case said a big holdup has been disagreements between prosecutors and U.S. intelligence agencies over what types of classified information can be used to try him.
“You know the intelligence community. It wants to keep everything secret,” the source said.
The Army spokeswoman said that Pfc. Manning’s defense teams’ request for information “was taking awhile because parts and pieces of the information belong to a lot of different agencies. So I know there was a lot intense coordination amongst everyone with all the different agencies.”
“Because the case involves computers and classified information, that makes it a very complex case which requires some pretty methodical investigation,” she said. “Another factor contributing to the length of the process is that, under the rules for courts-martial, it requires the prosecution to ensure that the defense team has the proper security clearances for review of classified evidence.”
It has been widely reported that Pf.c Manning, while assigned to an intelligence unit in Iraq, downloaded about 250,000 secret State Department cables that ended up being released by WikiLeaks.
Besides accusing him of the unauthorized downloading and dissemination of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables in 2010, the Army also has charged him with aiding the enemy.
If convicted, the 23-year-old could face a sentence of life in prison.
Wikileaks has released large quantities of secret cables, some in coordination with the New York Times and other newspapers. Some cables have contained the names of U.S. foreign sources, presumedly putting their lives in danger.