U.S. Judge Bars Manning from Citing Effect of Leaksإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
A U.S. military judge on Thursday barred WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning from citing evidence at his trial alleging he caused no serious harm to the United States when he released a massive trove of secret government documents.
In a major blow to Manning's defense, Judge Denise Lind said what happened after the classified files were disclosed is irrelevant as to whether the U.S. soldier committed the crime of leaking sensitive information knowing that it "could" cause damage to America's national security.
What occurred afterwards "was not knowable to the accused" prior to the leak and therefore not pertinent to determining his guilt or innocence, said Lind, reading out her ruling at a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, northeast of Washington.
Lind, a U.S. Army colonel, said prospective jurors might be "confused" if the trial allowed for a discussion of potential harm caused by the leaks.
The judge left open the possibility that the defense could argue it needed to present information related to the effect of the leaks when cross-examining prosecution witnesses. But she said she would take up defense requests on a case-by-case basis.
Manning's civilian lawyer David Coombs had told the court on Wednesday that banning such evidence would mean the defense would be "cut off at the knees."
The decision only applied to the trial and if Manning is convicted, both sides could present evidence on the impact of the leaks when jurors weigh a sentence for the low-ranking intelligence analyst.
Coombs has suggested that his client aimed to shed light on government secrecy while carefully selecting what documents to release to the WikiLeaks website to avoid jeopardizing U.S. national security.
In his filing to the court, Coombs wrote that prosecutors wanted to hide "America's worst-kept secret -- that the alleged leaks did little to no harm to national security."
U.S. officials have backed off initial warnings that the WikiLeaks disclosures -- the biggest breach of U.S. intelligence in history -- would cause grievous damage to American interests, and internal assessments found no proof of disastrous consequences, according to Coombs.
Manning, 24, faces a possible life sentence for "aiding the enemy" by releasing a vast cache of classified files to WikiLeaks, which portrays itself as a whistleblower website.
The U.S. Army private was arrested in Iraq in 2010 for allegedly unloading hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables and military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The trial is tentatively due to begin later this year but could be pushed back to as late as February, the judge said.
Manning's supporters, some of whom attended the proceedings Thursday, see the soldier as a hero who has dared to lift the veil on America's power games. But his detractors portray Manning as a reckless vandal who undermined U.S. diplomacy and endangered the lives of intelligence contacts.
Defense and prosecution lawyers have repeatedly clashed over what documents are pertinent in the case, with Manning's counsel accusing the government of hiding information that could help their client.
Lind, agreeing to a request from Manning, ordered prosecutors Thursday to share State Department documents that served as a basis for a worldwide "damage assessment" of the WikiLeaks disclosures.
At the next pre-trial hearing set for August, the court will examine whether Manning suffered illegal mistreatment during nine months at a U.S. Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia.
Coombs said evidence on Manning's solitary confinement "should shock the conscience of this court."
After his detention at Quantico from July 2010 to April 2011, which sparked an uproar from rights activists, Manning was transferred to a prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he was placed under less restrictive conditions.
The judge rejected a request from Manning to have U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez testify at the hearing next month, as he never visited Manning during his detention.
Mendez requested a visit with Manning but U.S. military authorities would not allow him to conduct an "unmonitored" meeting with the accused, Coombs said.