Court could reject Bradley Manning guilty plea - the US soldier said to have passed thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks


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The Independent US

Bradley Manning, the US soldier said to have passed thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, is ready to admit several offences his lawyer has revealed.

David Coombs said that his client would plead guilty to elements of some of the 22 charges against him – in the hope of avoiding being tried for some of the more serious charges. It is believed that Private First Class (PFC) Manning is likely to admit passing information to WikiLeaks, but will deny he aided the enemy.

A military court has yet to rule on whether the plea is legally admissible. If it is, the prosecuting authorities would still, by refusing to agree to the plea, have the option of having him tried on all 22 counts.

Among the more serious charges facing PFC Manning are that he caused the publication of “intelligence belonging to the United States government”, and that he aided the enemy.

Mr Coombs unveiled the offer in a pre-trial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland, but denied in a blog on his website that the admission was part of a formal plea-bargain. He wrote: “PFC Manning has offered to plead guilty to various offenses through a process known as ‘pleading by exceptions and substitutions.’” The legal manoeuvre does not involve PFC Manning pleading guilty to the specifications as charged by the Government. Rather, he is attempting to accept responsibility for offenses that are encapsulated within, or are a subset of, the charged offenses.

“PFC Manning is not submitting a plea as part of an agreement or deal with the Government.  Further, the Government does not need to agree to PFC Manning’s plea. The Government may still elect to prove up the charged offenses,” Mr Coombs added.

PFC Manning is scheduled to face trial next February and had the right to be tried by military jury but has opted instead to be tried by a military judge sitting alone.

He was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq as an army intelligence analyst and is accused of passing more than 700,000 military intelligence files, video clips and State Department cables over to WikiLeaks. The later publication by the group run by Julian Assange caused huge embarrassment to the US where there are calls for Mr Assange to face trial for espionage. Mr Assange was due to be extradited from the UK to Sweden to face allegations of rape but took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy building in London amid fears that if he was sent to Scandinavia the authorities there would pass him to the US where if convicted he would face life in prison. He has been granted political asylum by Ecuador.

WikiLeaks has not confirmed that the soldier was its source for the documents but in August, speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy, Mr Assange said: “If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all and one of the world’s foremost political prisoners.”