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Judge limits motive evidence in Wikileaks case

Jan. 16, 2013 - 07:12PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 16, 2013 - 07:12PM  |  
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FORT MEADE, Md. — A military judge's ruling on Wednesday tightly limited an Army private's ability to argue he had good reasons for allegedly sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Pfc. Bradley Manning can use motive evidence at his June 3 trial only to show that he didn't know the leaked material would be seen by al-Qaida, or to seek leniency at sentencing, Col. Denise Lind ruled during a pretrial hearing. Evidence of motive isn't relevant to the other charges, she said.

Prosecutors say Manning told an online confidant-turned-government-informant that he leaked the material because "I want people to see the truth" and "information should be free." Lind said such material is only relevant as evidence of "whether he knew he was dealing with the enemy."

She also barred Manning from using at trial any reports compiled by government agencies that concluded the WikiLeaks revelations didn't compromise national security. The defense can use such material only during sentencing.

The ruling was largely a victory for the government, which had asked Lind to exclude any use of motive evidence from the trial.

The 25-year-old Oklahoma native is accused of sending hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, State Department diplomatic cables, other classified records and two battlefield video clips to WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad. He faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum life sentence.

To win a conviction on that offense, prosecutors must prove he knew the material would be seen by the enemy, identified by prosecutors as several al-Qaida groups and Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader killed by U.S. commandos in 2011. Prosecutors say they have evidence that bin Laden requested and received from an associate some of the WikiLeaks disclosures attributed to Manning.

Before the hearing ended, Lind also heard arguments on a defense motion claiming she should dismiss the case because Manning was denied his right to a speedy trial. He's been in pretrial confinement for nearly two years and eight months.

Civilian defense attorney David Coombs said prosecutors have dragged their feet and a commander rubber-stamped their requests for delay after delay.

"There are no winners when justice is delayed, and in this case, it has been delayed a significant period of time," Coombs said.

Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein said the delays were reasonable given the complexity of the case and the huge volume of classified material to be reviewed and cleared by various government agencies for use in the court-martial.

"There was constant motion" by prosecutors on those issues, Fein said.

The defense has focused partly on the 635 days between Manning's arrest in May 2010 and his arraignment last February, a period far in excess of the 120-day rule. Army Col. Carl Coffman Jr., who approved those delays, testified in November that they reflected the sensitive nature of the material Manning was accused of leaking.

Lind said she would rule on the motion by the next scheduled hearing on Feb. 26.

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