The charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, are likely to proceed onto a court martial.
The investigative officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, who presided over the Article 32 hearing in December, recommended all twenty-three charges, including the charge of “aiding the enemy,” which rests upon the government’s assertion that Manning knowingly provided intelligence to terrorist groups like al Qaeda through WikiLeaks.
Almanza did not recommend the death penalty for the “aiding the enemy” charge, which is a capital offense.
POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein, who was part of the media pool at the hearing in December, further reports:
Almanza’s report was sent on Thursday to Col. Carl Coffman, the commander of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the military post to which Manning is officially assigned at the moment. However, Manning has been in military custody since he was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of the massive data breach to WikiLeaks, a global transparency website. Since last spring, Manning has been at an Army-run prison at Fort Leavenworth, Ks.
If Coffman agrees that a general court martial of Manning is warranted, Coffman will forward that recommendation to the commander of the Military District of Washington, Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, who will make the final decision about how to proceed with the case.
Additional information, such as the report itself, was not released.
What is significant here is that it appears the investigative officer found there were no grounds to consolidate the charges as the defense had recommended in their closing argument.
David Coombs, Manning’s defense attorney, urged Almanza to recognize the government had “overcharged” his client in order to “strong arm” him. The various specifications each carried a 10 year maximum sentence. Altogether, that would mean Manning could face up to 150 years maximum punishment in prison. He argued the Article 92 charges, stemming from the information assurance rules (information security measures), be dismissed because “information assurance was the last concern” of Manning’s unit.
Manning served in a “lawless unit” when it came to information assurance, Coombs argued. It would not be reasonable to charge Manning and not others in his unit, who had violated information security guidelines as well.
Coombs also called for the “aiding the enemy” charge to be dismissed. Almanza apparently found no grounds for dismissal and was won over by the prosecution’s use of an Al Qaeda propaganda video when making the case in court that he deserved to be charged.
The other significant aspect of Almanza’s decision to recommend all charges proceed to a court martial is the fact that numerous defense witnesses were blocked from taking the stand to testify by the prosecution and Almanza. In fact, today, Coombs filed a “deposition request” urging the government to allow the collection of “out-of-court testimony” from witnesses “improperly denied at the Article 32 hearing.”
A copy of the request with some details redacted provides details on just who these witnesses were that were prevented from testifying.
One witness would have testified about “his classification review of the three Apache gun videos that were sent to his Division by FORSCOM.” He would have testified that the “videos were not classified at the time of their alleged release,” but he “believes that [the] videos should have been classified.” Another witness, an “Original Classification Authority (OCA), would have been questioned on the “classification determination and impact statements” that the OCA had made on information he reviewed.
Another witness would have testified on his “classification determination and his belief of the impact on national security from having” CIDNE Afghanistan Events [Afghan War Logs], CIDNE Iraq Events [Iraq War Logs], other briefings and the BE22PAX.wmv video [allegedly the Granai air strike video] released. And, yet another witness would have testified on his “classification determination and the impact of the release” of State Diplomatic cables on “national security.”
Each of the witnesses, whom Coombs hopes to collect oral testimony from, would be providing testimony of a “classified nature.”
Coombs’ disposition request for an oral deposition is not surprising, especially because these are witnesses that reviewed the information Manning released who were not permitted to testify. It should be alarming that these individuals would not be able to provide testimony. These are the people who would truly have the authority to state whether there was any evidence to support charging Manning with “aiding the enemy.” They would be able to produce government findings on whether the security of the United States had been put at risk.
Almanza’s denial of witnesses was part of why on the first day of the pre-trial hearing the defense called for Almanza to recuse himself and accused him of appearing to be biased.
The refusal of the prosecution and investigative officer Almanza to allow these witnesses to testify raises suspicion that the basis for the “aiding the enemy” charge is probably paper thin (if that). It is all to make an example out of Manning, as supporters have suggested, and ensure no soldier ever thinks about doing what Manning did, even if they see evidence of war crimes that the chain of command refuse to address.