A US military court heard closing arguments Thursday at the pre-trial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], which will determine whether he will face a court martial for his alleged role in the largest intelligence leak in US history. Manning, who served as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces 22 criminal charges and possible life imprisonment [CNN report] for leaking a controversial classified video [YouTube video] of a 2007 US helicopter strike in Iraq and nearly 750,000 classified US military and State Department [official website] documents, much of which landed on Wikileaks [website] last year. The Article 32 hearing, the military justice system's rough equivalent of a grand jury hearing, is conducted publicly and the defense is allowed to cross-examine witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. At the hearing, Manning's lawyers accused prosecutors of overreaching [Reuters report], saying the massive release of documents caused no harm to national security, and asking the court to throw out charges of aiding and giving intelligence to the enemy. They also urged the court to dismiss several other counts, saying overall security within Manning's unit was lax. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense that could bring the death penalty, but the prosecution has said it intends to seek life in prison for the soldier. Manning's attorney focused his closing remarks on urging the prosecution to seek a prison term of no more than 30 years. Manning will not know for several weeks whether he will face a court martial.
A US Army [official website] panel of experts declared Manning competent to stand trial [JURIST report] in April. Manning's prosecution has sparked heated debate between defenders and critics. Those who support Manning's actions refer to him as courageous for acting as a whistleblower [advocacy petition] against government crime and corruption. He has been compared to famous US whistleblowers such as Frank Serpico and Daniel Ellsberg [personal websites], who leaked information regarding corruption in the New York Police Department and the Pentagon, respectively. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [WP profile] has criticized the video [WSJ report], claiming it provides the public a view of warfare "as seen through a soda straw." He noted that public attention was not drawn to what was discovered by US ground forces following the helicopter gunfire, including AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He also said that terrorist organizations are made up of combatants who do not wear enemy uniforms. In August, lawyer Charles Lugosi [profile] wrote that Patriot Act provisions and criminal sanctions placed on whistleblowers like Manning violate the Constitution [JURIST commentary] and fundamentally challenge the legitimacy of the rule of law and American democracy. Lugosi noted that individuals, through websites and social networking, can expose modern injustice and raise the conscious awareness of the public to worthy causes and crusades.