Guardian, By Ed Pilkington
Bradley Manning, the US soldier who is facing life in prison for allegedly having leaked hundreds of thousands of state secrets to WikiLeaks, has indicated publicly for the first time that he accepts responsibility for handing some information to the whistleblower website.
Manning’s defence lawyer, David Coombs, told a pre-trial hearing ahead of his court martial that the soldier wanted to offer a guilty plea for some offences contained within the US government’s case against him. This is the first time the intelligence analyst has given any public indication that he accepts that he played a part in the breach of confidential US material.
The statement is technically known as “pleading by exceptions and substitutions”. By taking this legal route, Manning is not pleading guilty to any of the 22 charges brought against him, and nor is he making a plea bargain. He is asking the court to rule on whether his plea accepting limited responsibility is admissible in the case. Coombs set out the details in a statement that was posted on his website after the hearing.
Should the judge presiding over Manning’s court martial allow the soldier to plead guilty by “exceptions and substitutions”, army prosecutors could still press on with all 22 counts. In this instance, a full trial would go ahead next year. Manning would continue to face the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy”, which carries a maximum sentence of life in military custody with no chance of parole.
The trial has been scheduled to start on 4 February and to last for six weeks. In court this week, Manning also indicated that he had decided that the trial should be conducted by a judge sitting alone. The soldier has rejected the option of having a jury.
According to a report of the pre-trial hearing by Kevin Gosztola of the liberal website Firedoglake, Manning’s offer of a plea was intended to simplify the evidentiary element of the trial. By accepting responsibility for transferring some information, the soldier would avoid pleading to more serious offences including breaches of the Espionage Act – the “aiding the enemy” count – and Computer Fraud and Abuses Act.
What Manning admits remains unclear. It could be that he is accepting responsibility for some of the WikiLeaks documents but not others, or to some form of electronic transfer but not others.
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