By Camille Elhassani
After a year and a half in US custody, the military hearing into the case of Army PFC Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked documents to WikiLeaks, has begun. Manning faces 22 charges of violating the military code, ranging from theft of records to aiding the enemy.
The military says it won’t seek the death penalty, but Manning faces life in prison.
The hearing is a military proceeding akin to a grand jury, where an investigating officer will hear evidence and decide whether or not to refer the charges for a trial. Manning is being represented by two military lawyers and a civilian attorney.
The hearing at Fort George Meade outside Washington DC began with the Investigative Officer, Army Reserve Lt. Col Paul Almanza asking Manning if he had copies of the charging documents and if he was satisfied with his lawyers, to which he answered "Yes".
Then the defence, led by civilian attorney David Coombs, asked the investigative officer to recuse himself for bias. Coombs said Almanza’s work at the department of justice, which is investigating WikiLeaks, compromises him, although Almanza said he hasn’t had anything to do with the case. But he did admit to sending emails about this military case from his Department of justice email account on his department of justice BlackBerry.
Almanza said, “I don’t believe I’m biased.” Coombs also cited the investigating officer’s denial of a number of defence witnesses and keeping the proceedings open as reasons the defence feels Almanza is biased. After several hours of consideration, he denied the defence request.
Coombs made the assertion that because the investigative officer has consistently ruled against Manning, the hearing was more for show than to truly seek justice. At one point, he turned to the audience and said, “This courtroom is beautiful.” Almanza then asked “Mr Coombs, who are you addressing?”
The media were allowed to view the proceedings via a closed-circuit feed a few blocks away from the courthouse on Fort Meade. A few media are being allowed into the courtroom, including a sketch artist.
Manning didn’t acknowledge anyone in the audience when he came in. He seemed engaged with the process, talking to his military lawyers, handing his civilian lawyer documents. And he spent much of the hearing with his hands folded on the desk watching whichever lawyer was at the lectern.
The hearing could last up to a week. If the investigating officer refers the case for trial, that could start next year.
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