The American soldier accused of purloining diplomatic and military secrets that were then recycled by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks was facing 22 extra charges last night, including one accusing him of "aiding the enemy" that technically could carry a death sentence if he were found guilty.
Bradley Manning, who is being held at a marine base in conditions that have been criticised by human rights groups, was deployed to Iraq as an intelligence analyst in 2009.
He has the distinction of being the sole person at whom the US can hurl its accumulated embarrassment and anger over the whole WikiLeaks debacle. Earlier suggestions that the Justice Department was targeting the site's founder, Julian Assange, for prosecution have come to nothing. While the most grave of the new charges - aiding the enemy under the Uniform Code of Military Justice – is a capital offence, prosecutors told Mr Manning and his lawyer, David Coombs, yesterday that they would actually seek the death penalty at a future court martial. But in a statement released last night, the Army made clear that were Mr Manning to be found guilty on these and other charges previously filed last July, he would be sent to prison to the rest of his life.
A wrinkle concerns his mental condition. An army investigation concluded earlier this year that he was sent to Iraq against the advice of some of his superiors at Fort Drum in New York, who said they had seen evidence of emotional difficulties during his training. There were also reports that he lost his mental equilibrium once in Iraq.
The report also questioned lax security at the computer centre in Iraq where he worked. The new charges allege that Mr Manning introduced software to the government computers that allowed him to download all the documents, many of which have subsequently made it, mostly via WikiLeaks, into the media. Though it is not mentioned in the charges, Mr Manning is thought to have stored some of it on a Lady Gaga computer disk.
"The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Private 1st Class Manning is accused of committing," said Captain John Haberland, a legal spokesman for the Military District of Washington. They stemmed from a seven-month Army investigation. The earlier charges against Mr Manning related to video he downloaded of a helicopter gunship attack in which two employees of the Reuters news agency were killed.
Assuming the process moves forward with the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation and then a court martial, it is likely that Army prosecutors will underscore what they say was Mr Manning's most serious crime: stealing, downloading and then disseminating materials, including thousands of military and diplomatic cables, that included the names of informants and others who were helping US forces in Afghanistan.
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