The bench trial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] started Monday at Forte Meade, Maryland, nearly three years after his initial arrest [JURIST report]. Manning faces a variety of charges related to his release of thousands of classified military documents that were later published on Wikileaks [website]. The most serious charge is that of aiding the enemy, which comes with a life sentence. While Manning's supporters hail him as a political martyr, the prosecution has characterized [AP report] him as a soldier who dumped hundreds of documents onto the internet and into enemy hands.
This case has been controversial since the arrest of Manning in 2010. In April the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [official website] rejected a request by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] to have access to court documents from the case. That month the judge raised the burden of proof [JURIST report] so that the state must prove that Manning "knowingly" aided al Qaeda. In February Manning pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to 10 of the 22 charges against him for providing classified materials to Wikileaks. Also in February the judge dismissed [JURIST report] a defense motion arguing that Manning should be released based on a lack of a speedy trial. In January the judge ruled that prosecutors must prove that Manning knew he was aiding the enemy and that the treatment he received while in military custody was illegal and excessive [JURIST reports]. In November the judge accepted [JURIST report] a partial guilty plea to several of the minor charges against Manning. In August JURIST guest columnist Philip Cave argued [JURIST comment] that the lack of transparency in Manning's case undermines the validity of the eventual verdict. In June the judge ordered the prosecution to submit to her a number of files that were allegedly withheld from the defense during discovery. Prior to that, Manning was held in solitary confinement at the Quantico Marine Base [official website] brig for 112 days.