Bradley Manning Defense to Call 50 Witnesses to Hearing

The defense attorney representing alleged WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning plans to call up to 50 witnesses at a pre-trial hearing scheduled to occur next month in Maryland, as well as introduce a number of unspecified motions, according to the organizers of a support group for the soldier.

The witnesses could include Daniel Ellsberg, famed Pentagon Papers leaker, who would talk about the benefit Manning’s alleged leaks provided to the public, as well as technical experts who would speak to the actual evidence on which the charges against Manning are based. The latter might include assessments of forensic evidence from classified networks and databases that contained the sensitive documents Manning is charged with downloading and leaking.

The information on the defense’s tactics came at a press conference on Tuesday held by representatives of the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Jeff Paterson, an organizer with the Network, said it’s unclear how many witnesses the court will allow to testify, but said that Manning’s defense attorney David E. Coombs intends to release a complete list of the witnesses if the court blocks him from calling a substantial number of them. Paterson said that prosecutors have not released a list of witnesses they plan to call.

Coombs was unavailable for comment and has indicated he will not be speaking with any media prior to the hearing.

The pre-trial hearing, to be held Dec. 16 at Fort Meade outside Baltimore, Maryland, is expected to last about five days but could spill over into January, with a recess for the December holidays, if the court allows a large number of witnesses to testify.

The hearing will be the first time that Manning’s defense team will be able to hear the details of the prosecution’s case against the former army intelligence analyst.

Both the prosecution and defense will be able to call witnesses to the hearing and cross-examine them. The defense will also receive copies of the criminal investigation files and witness statements.

Paterson told reporters that the defense team has “received the vast majority of the discovery that’s needed to move forward on this case” since Manning’s confinement in May 2010, but said that “there is some more sensitive information that is still being withheld from the defense that is expected to be released at some point soon.”

He said the chat logs believed to be between Manning and former hacker Adrian Lamo, in which Manning allegedly confessed to leaking data to the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks, are “suspect as far as evidence in a military court,” and prosecutors will therefore likely have to rely on forensic evidence.

Generally at pre-trial hearings, the defense team refrains from revealing information that might tip off the prosecution to their defense strategy. But Paterson said that defense attorney Coombs “is going to present a pretty vigorous defense of [many] different angles on the charges.”

Paterson didn’t comment on the nature of the motions the defense might introduce at the hearing.

But Ellsberg and the Network’s legal adviser Kevin Zeese, who were on the press call, argued that public comments that President Obama has made earlier this year suggesting that Manning is guilty constitutes illegal command influence on the military court from the nation’s commander in chief, and therefore should be raised as an issue in the case.

Obama told an audience in April, “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law.”

“I can’t imagine a juror who wants to have a future in the military … going against the statement of [guilty] made by his or her commander in chief,” said Zeese, referring to the military judge and jury who will preside over the hearing and subsequent court martial of Manning and could be swayed to convict based on Obama’s statements. “I hope that the defense is making an issue of it.”

The hearing is open to the public and the media, except for periods when classified information will be discussed, and is expected to draw a large crowd of observers. The Support Network said it expects the military will have a remote viewing area for up to 100 observers to accommodate spillover.

If the judge presiding over the hearing determines that the case should proceed for court-martial, Manning will be tried in the Washington, D.C., area, according to the Army. Paterson said a court-martial would likely occur sometime between April and August next year.

“There will be a lot of motions in between [the Article 32 hearing and the court martial],” Paterson said.

The Army has filed 22 counts against Manning, including a capital charge of aiding the enemy, for which the government said it would not seek the death penalty. Other charges include five counts of theft of public property or records, two counts of computer fraud, eight counts of transmitting defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, and one count of wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy.

If convicted of all charges, Manning faces a maximum punishment of life in prison, the Army said in a press release.

The Support Network, which says it has raised nearly $400,000 for Manning’s legal defense so far, plans to hold demonstrations outside Fort Meade on Dec. 16, when Manning arrives for the hearing the first day, as well as a larger rally and march through the public streets on the north side of Fort Meade on Dec. 17, the day of Manning’s 24th birthday. Organizers around the world will also be holding an international day of support for Manning. The Support Network says it has raised nearly $50,000 to cover the travel expenses for Manning’s family to visit him in prison and attend the hearing, as well as to cover the costs of organizing rallies and other support.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq after allegedly telling a former hacker that he had leaked vast amounts of classified material to WikiLeaks. He was subsequently transferred to Kuwait, where he was detained for about two months before being moved to the Quantico brig at the end of July.

For most of his time at the brig, Manning was held in highly restrictive pre-trial confinement. Designated a maximum-custody detainee under prevention-of-injury watch, or POI, he was confined to his cell for all but an hour a day, and had a number of other restrictions placed on him.

Last April, after charges from his attorney and supporters that Manning was being unfairly treated at the brig, he was moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where most of the restrictions on him were removed and he was able to eat, visit and exercise with other prisoners.