Pfc. Bradley Manning’s Article 32 hearing, also being referred to as his pre-trial hearing, will begin on December 16 at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The hearing could potentially last until Friday, December 23.

An Article 32 hearing, according to the Defense Department, is “closely akin to the civilian grand jury investigation.” When the hearing closes, the “Article 32 officer” will make “a recommendation” on “the disposition of the charges.” Or, as David Dishneau of AP clearly and concisely puts it, “The proceeding is to determine whether the Army intelligence analyst will be court-martialed for allegedly leaking government secrets.”

This kind of hearing is supposed to be about whether there is enough evidence to bring Manning to trial. As mentioned above, an “investigative officer, not a judge,” will preside over the hearing. This officer is often “a military attorney, a judge advocate, but legal training isn’t required.”

As Dishneau further describes, “Lawyers can call witnesses and make motions, just as in civilian court. But the military tightly controls public access to written filings.” Additionally, “There is no court clerk from whom such documents can be readily obtained. Except for what’s said in court, most of the public information about proceedings comes from civilian defense lawyers, who aren’t bound by a chain of command.”

Finally, Manning faces a “general courts-martial,” the most serious of the three types of court martial. It is the most serious because individuals can be charged with the death penalty. While the military says it will not charge Manning with the death penalty, the military has accused Manning of “aiding the enemy” leading many to believe he might be treated like someone who committed “treason” and be charged with the death penalty.

So, to be clear: The hearing will center on whether the military can charge Manning with the crime he has been accused by the US government of committing.

Manning will be defended by David Coombs. In the run-up to the hearing, Coombs made a list of 48 witnesses to call to the stand. The prosecution denied all of the witnesses except ten of them, which happen to be their list.

This prompted Coombs to respond:

PFC Manning is charged with offenses that carry the maximum punishment of life without the possibility of parole. His charges are among the most serious charges that a soldier can face. The government must be prepared to accept the costs incurred by the seriousness of the charges that they have preferred against PFC Manning. Anything but the personal appearances of all witnesses requested by the defense and government would deny PFC Manning his right to a thorough and impartial investigation and turn this into a hollow exercise.

The government’s claim that the cost and burden is too great to require the production and
personal appearance of relevant and necessary witnesses is not justified. It was the government’s decision to conduct this Article 32 investigation at Fort Meade. The defense’s
position has been consistent; it does not object to this location provided it has the personal
appearance of all relevant and necessary witnesses. The government should not be allowed to use its own decision to conduct the investigation at Fort Meade as a way to avoid making
relevant witnesses available

Also, Josh Gerstein of POLITICO reported last week, “The US Army disciplined 15 people as a result of an internal investigation into the decisions and failures that put Pvt. Bradley Manning in a position to download and leak thousands of classified military reports and diplomatic cables he allegedly provided to WikiLeaks,” It is possible some of those people disciplined were on Coombs’ defense witness list and were denied by the prosecution.

What will be most interesting is how the presiding officer handles the issue of the public not being allowed into the hearing if classified information is being discussed. If the struggles the ACLU and Guantanamo attorneys have experienced provide any indication, the information Manning is accused of releasing would be treated as still classified, even though it is now available to the public. The judge would likely close the hearing to the public when “Collateral Murder,” the war logs, the US State Embassy cables, Gitmo Files, etc, are being discussed.

That discussion should make up a good portion of the hearing since his crime, in the eyes of the US government, is “leaking” this information. So, the media and public may not be able to hear much of the government’s prosecution and at least part of the argument for Manning’s defense.

What the public might be privy to hearing is discussion on how Manning has been treated thus far. But, how much that will factor into the case depends on how much Coombs wants to cite that when defending Manning. If the defense centers on Manning being a whistleblower, again, there probably will be a good portion of the hearing that the media and public are not able to cover.

It is possible that the military has established a relationship with a small group of media within the larger media pool that has been credentialed. The Bradley Manning Support Network alleged last week the military was offering special access to information on the hearing and briefing a select group of media.

*

Firedoglake has extensively covered the issues surrounding Bradley Manning’s charges for allegedly leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, as well as his detention at Quantico. On behalf of Firedoglake, I will be attending the pre-trial hearing and reporting on the proceedings. (And, I will likely be joined by FDL writer Jon Walker, as he and I are the only two names from FDL that applied and were granted media credentials.)

There are ten seats in the courtroom for media. The ten seats have been designated as follows: “2 broadcast; 1 radio; 2 national papers; 2 foreign media; 1 blog; and 2 wire.” Since FDL is not the only news blog that applied to cover, I will likely be covering the hearing from an overflow room that will have a feed from the courtroom. (I have already been in contact with one of the bloggers who will be in attendance because I know it will be important to share notes throughout the proceedings so FDL can bring you the latest and most thorough account of what is unfolding.)

As outlined, there is very little documentation that will be made available to the public once the Article 32 hearing concludes. This means media will play a critical role in helping the public understand what is happening. It also means media will play an essential part in getting the truth of what is happening out.

The proceedings will be unlike many of the trials Americans are used to be following. While like civilian trials there will be deliberation over the crime he is accused of committing, the more critical focus of the hearing will be whether Manning put national security at risk or not. Thus, the prosecution could, if Manning did indeed release the documents to WikiLeaks, establish that there was no ultimate impact to national security but national security was put at risk so he should still be sentenced.

And, finally, there will be Bradley Manning supporters, Occupy demonstrators and others near the base rallying and marching. I do not know how much of that I will be able to cover. This time I will be on the inside and given the kind of access that those who work for big establishment media usually take for granted.

For the latest on the Bradley Manning pre-trial hearing, check back here at The Dissenter.