HAGERSTOWN, Md. – An Army officer ordered a court-martial Friday for a low-ranking intelligence analyst charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
Military District of Washington commander Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington referred all charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning to a general court-martial, the Army said in a statement.
The referral means Manning will stand trial for allegedly giving more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents and classified combat video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication.
The 24-year-old Crescent, Okla., native faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy. He could be imprisoned for life if convicted of that charge.
A judge who is yet to be appointed will set the trial date.
Manning's lead defense counsel, civilian attorney David Coombs, didn't immediately return a call Friday evening seeking comment on the decision.
Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there from late 2009 to mid-2010.
At a preliminary hearing in December, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed "Collateral Murder."
Manning's lawyers countered that others had access to Manning's workplace computers. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. The defense also claims Manning's apparent disregard for security rules during stateside training and his increasingly violent outbursts after deployment were red flags that should have prevented him from having access to classified material. Manning's lawyers also contend that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.
In the December hearing at Fort Meade, Md., prosecutors also presented excerpts of online chats found on Manning's personal computer that allegedly document collaboration between him and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Federal prosecutors in northern Virginia are investigating Assange and others for allegedly facilitating the disclosures.
The Bradley Manning Support Group, which contends Manning heroically exposed war crimes, issued a statement calling his prosecution "fundamentally unjust."
"This administration owes all Americans an honest explanation for their extraordinary retaliation against Bradley Manning," said Jeff Paterson, one of the group's lead organizers.