FORT MEADE, Md. – A military judge refused on Thursday to dismiss the most serious charge against an Army private accused in the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history.
Col. Denise Lind rejected a defense motion to throw out the charge of "aiding the enemy" during a pretrial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. It was one of several motions seeking to dismiss some or all of the charges, but Lind left all 22 counts against Manning in place.
In seeking dismissal of the most serious offense, defense attorney David Coombs had argued that the charge didn't properly allege that Manning intended to help al-Qaida when he allegedly sent hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war reports and State Department diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Manning stated in an online chat with a confidant-turned-informant that he leaked the information because, "I want people to see the truth."
Prosecutors had argued that Manning knew the enemy would see the material when it appeared on WikiLeaks, regardless of his intentions.
Lind said Thursday that prosecutors must prove during trial that Manning knew he was giving information to the enemy. If they fail to do so, Lind indicated she would consider a defense motion to dismiss the charge.
Jeff Paterson, a leader of the Bradley Manning Support Group, said he was disappointed by the ruling but encouraged by what he called the "high hurdle" prosecutors must clear.
"Everything we know about Bradley Mannning is the complete opposite of this charge — nothing about aiding the enemy but everything about aiding the public's understanding of an unpopular war," Paterson said.
Manning hasn't entered a plea to any of the charges. He also hasn't yet decided whether he will be tried by a judge or a jury. His trial is set for Sept. 21 through Oct. 12.
Earlier Thursday, Lind rejected a motion to consolidate some charges that the defense said were duplicative. She said the defense could raise the motion again for sentencing purposes if Manning is convicted.
She denied another defense motion seeking to dismiss a count on the grounds that it was improperly charged. That count alleges that Manning wrongfully and wantonly caused intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing it would be accessible to the enemy.
Lind also heard arguments on a government motion to bar any discussion at trial of whether the leaked material harmed U.S. interests. Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein said the government must prove only that Manning leaked the material knowing it could cause harm, regardless of whether it did.
The motion appeared to be aimed at blocking the defense's attempts to obtain classified reports compiled by the departments of Defense, State and Justice assessing the damage done by the WikiLeaks disclosures. Defense attorney David Coombs said the reports probably say the leaks did little or no damage; otherwise, he said, the prosecution would be eager to discuss them.
Fein said that since the government doesn't have to prove damage, any courtroom discussion of damage assessments would waste the court's time.
"Just because a damage assessment might say damage did occur or didn't occur, it's completely irrelevant" to proving the charges, Fein said.
The 24-year-old Oklahoma native was ordered court-martialed after he was accused of downloading the war logs, cables and video clips, and then sending them to WikiLeaks. He was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad when authorities say he copied classified material from government computers in late 2009 and early 2010.
The material WikiLeaks published included cockpit video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed a number of civilians, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The U.S. government says the civilian deaths were accidental.
Prosecutors acknowledged in court Wednesday that the helicopter video was not classified, although he allegedly got it from a military computer network reserved for classified material. He is charged with "having unauthorized possession" of the video clip.
Manning has been in pretrial confinement since he was charged in May 2010. He has been held since last April at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
His earlier treatment at a Marine Corps base caused support for him to swell. The Quantico, Va., brig commander kept Manning confined 23 hours a day in a single-bed cell, citing safety and security concerns. For several days in March 2011, he was forced to sleep naked, purportedly for injury prevention, before he was issued a suicide-prevention smock.
Manning's supporters have raised funds to place posters in the Washington Metro subway system this week portraying him as a whistleblower, patriot and hero.