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Manning defers plea at court martial in Wikileaks case

February 23, 2012|By Brian Bennett
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Ft. Meade, Md. — On the first day of court martial proceedings against an intelligence analyst accused of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, lawyers for U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning said the government was unnecessarily drawing out the prosecution in violation of Manning's right to a speedy trial.

Manning has been held in pre-trial confinement for 635 days.

The arraignment in a military court at Ft. Meade, Md., lasted 50 minutes and focused on legal housekeeping matters, such as setting a date for trial and requests by the defense for more documents from the prosecution.

Manning's civilian lawyer, David E. Coombs, said he would be ready to begin the full trial in April. Prosecutors asked for the trail to be scheduled for early August.

Manning faces 22 charges that include aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act. He is suspected of giving the WikiLeaks website classified field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables that included frank descriptions of foreign leaders, and video footage of a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad, among other documents.

When asked by the judge how he would plead to the charges, Manning deferred his right to enter a plea in the case until a later date. Wearing his dark green Army dress uniform, Manning occasionally leaned over and whispered comments to Coombs and gave short answers to questions from judge Col. Denise  Lind.

Supporters of Manning say the conditions of Manning’s pre-trial confinement have been orchestrated by the government to compel Manning to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A grand jury has been convened in Alexandria, Va., to hear evidence against Assange.

"They seem to be bludgeoning Bradley Manning to accept a plea where he would then implicate Julian Assange," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal organization based in New York City. Ratner attended the arraignment Thursday on behalf of Assange and WikiLeaks.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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