Thin and fragile, America's public enemy No 1 Bradley Manning in court

Bradley Manning challenges prosecution for allegedly divulging secrets to WikiLeaks

The legal plight of the former US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was again under the spotlight yesterday as defence lawyers, in a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland, sought to challenge the case against him for allegedly leaking classified military and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

Not seen since his last hearing in April, Pte Manning looked thin and fragile seated between members of his defence team inside the military courtroom at the base, which is 30 minutes north of Washington, DC. He has been in custody since his arrest in May 2010 on suspicion of passing diplomatic cables and military logs from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to the anti-secrecy website founded by Julian Assange.

In a potentially positive sign for the defence, the judge, Colonel Denise Lind, doubled the number of pre-trial hearings in the case from three to six.

In a potentially significant boost for Pte Manning, the court yesterday ordered prosecutors to hand over documentation relating to the case to the defence. Papers that by last night were already in the hands of Pte Manning's legal team included results of damage-assessment investigations carried out by the US government and its embassies around the world in the wake of the WikiLeaks affair. If the documents show that the material harm done to the government and to US national security was in fact minimal, it could make it easier for his lawyers to blunt the force of prosecution arguments at trial.

The 24-year-old Welsh-American's lawyers also want the court to dismiss 10 of the 22 charges filed against their client, who faces possible life imprisonment if convicted on all the counts as they presently stand. He has not yet entered a plea or decided whether he would like the judge or a jury to decide his fate.

The defence is contending that the US government used "unconstitutionally vague" or "substantially over-broad" language in eight of the charges filed under the Espionage Act accusing their client of "possession and disclosure of sensitive information". It also asserts that two other charges related to accessing secrets illegally should also be dismissed as the access came with his job.

The defendant, who has attracted a worldwide "Free Bradley Manning" campaign, served as a low-level intelligence analyst in Iraq for six months from November 2009. He is accused of downloading the secret logs and cables to a disk disguised as a music CD before handing the material to Mr Assange.