Manning offers to plea guilty to reduced charges
A United States Army private charged with sending mountains of classified documents to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks has offered to take responsibility for the leak by pleading guilty to reduced charges in a move that military justice experts yesterday called unusual and potentially pointless.
The unilateral offer, if accepted by the military judge, would still leave the Government free to prosecute Private First Class Bradley Manning on the original 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, punishable by life imprisonment.
Prosecutors could choose not to pursue those charges but “I find it hard to imagine that happening in this case,” said Eugene Fidell, a former Coast Guard judge advocate who teaches military law at Yale. “The Government has had a very long time to conduct extensive investigations and presumably has its evidence ready to roll,” Fidell said.
Defence attorney David Coombs revealed the offer during a pre-trial hearing. The judge, Army Colonel Denise Lind, will likely consider the plea at a December 10 hearing unless the offer is withdrawn.
Manning would acknowledge he sent WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war reports and State Department diplomatic cables, but wouldn’t plead guilty to aiding the enemy or to violations of federal espionage and computer laws.
It is the first indication the 24-year-old intelligence analyst will publicly acknowledge he leaked the records. The Government regards the leak as a national security breach but anti-secrecy advocates, including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, say Manning is a hero. He has been in custody since his arrest in Iraq in May 2010. He is in pretrial confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.