Obama, Clinton ‘prejudiced’ WikiLeaks suspect’s case
FORT MEADE (Maryland): President Barack Obama made “prejudicial” comments about the soldier accused of the biggest intelligence leak in US history and harmed the suspect’s defence, a court has heard.
Other top figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and retired admiral Mike Mullen, the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also made ill-advised remarks about Army Private Bradley Manning, it was alleged on Tuesday.
Obama’s comment that Manning “broke the law,” made at a political fundraiser in California last April, and other public statements were deliberately designed to weaken his defence, according to civilian attorney David Coombs.
These are “people who should know better,” Coombs said at Manning’s pre-trial hearing at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland, naming the US president and referring to remarks made by Clinton and Mullen.
“Members of the government have taken the opportunity to throw comments out to the press that were very prejudicial. It was done purposefully and was unfortunate for us,” Coombs said.
“Even though he is the commander-in-chief, he does not have influence in this courtroom,” the lawyer said, in a pointed jab at Obama.
Manning, 24, could spend the rest of his life in jail if he is convicted of aiding the enemy by handing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the file-sharing website WikiLeaks.
The soldier was serving as an intelligence analyst near Baghdad when he was arrested in May 2010 and has been accused of releasing a trove of classified reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department cables.
The massive document dumps by WikiLeaks triggered a diplomatic firestorm that hugely embarrassed American officials and rankled the nation’s allies.
Manning, who is attending this week’s hearing, has not yet entered a plea in the case and his trial is tentatively due to start in September.
On Monday, the first day of the five-day pre-trial hearing, Manning’s defence team argued that government lawyers must prove that the soldier intended to help Al Qaeda by passing secret government documents to WikiLeaks.
The prosecution, however, has countered that they only have to show that Manning knew Al Qaeda might see the sensitive files after they were posted on the Internet.
A small group of Manning supporters were at Tuesday’s hearing, where it emerged that the military panel likely to decide his fate will have to answer more than 100 questions during a rigorous pre-trial screening process.
The procedure is meant to guard Manning against possible prejudice by the panel — the military equivalent of a jury — though the defence conceded it would be near impossible to find service personnel who are unaware of the case.
Questions include whether would-be pannelists read fiction focused on military intelligence, whether they’ve ever taken part in a protest march and what voluntary work, if any, they undertake.
The extensive list of questions — 15 is considered normal in courts martial — was not released to reporters covering the hearing but some of the details emerged during judicial argument.
Nine questions related to the subject of homosexuality. Manning is gay.
Army judge Colonel Denise Lind refused a defence team request that jurors be asked if they backed gay marriage, but she allowed a question about whether they agree with the repeal last year of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited gays from serving openly in the armed forces.
Manning could opt for a single judge to rule in the case, but unless he does so a panel of between five and 12 service personnel will weigh the verdict.—AFP