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.
The Army has not charged Pfc. Manning with leaking the files to WikiLeaks, though it has has filed more than 30 criminal counts against him, most recently 22 charges in March.
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.
The Pentagon and the State Department have denounced the leaks as a threat to national security. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation, but to date the only person charged is Pfc. Manning.
Meanwhile, Pfc. Manning’s civilian attorney, David E. Coombs, has kept the public updated on his client’s prison life via a blog.
In April, the Army moved the soldier from the isolation of a cell at Quantico to a more spacious environment at Fort Leavenworth.
At Quantico, Marine guards kept him on a “prevention of injury watch.” He was confined to his cell 23 hours a day and not permitted to sleep in any clothing.
Now, Pfc. Manning may leave his cell and socialize with other pre-trial prisoners in a common area that includes a TV, treadmill and showers.
“He is provided with a normal mattress, sheets and a pillow,” Mr. Coombs wrote. “None of his clothing is taken away from him at night. PFC Manning is able to have all of his personal items in his cell, which include his clothing, his legal materials, books and letters from family and friends. He is also able to have a pen and paper at all times in his cell, and is able to write whenever he chooses.”
Guards awake him at 4:50 a.m. Lights out are at 10 p.m.
Mr. Coombs wrote: “At 05:15, PFC Manning and all the other pre-trial detainees are escorted by one guard to the cafeteria. There are no restraints placed on any of the pre-trial detainees. The cafeteria has multiple food selections, as well as a full compliment of coffee, juice, milk and soda. PFC Manning eats his breakfast together with the 6 other pre-trial detainees currently at [Leavenworth]. He and the other pre-trial detainees in his quarters are then escorted back to the common area.”
After lunch, guards escort the detainees to an outdoor recreation area for about two hours.
“Weekends are considered ‘free time,’” the lawyer said. “Unlike weekdays, PFC Manning is allowed to sleep as much as he likes. Movies are also provided to pre-trial detainees on weekends.”
Last spring, the Army said a military “sanity board” found that Pfc. Manning was able to understand the charges against him and can assist in his defense.
“He is as sane and lucid as anyone can be,” said a source close to the case.