FORT MEADE, Md. (Dec. 22, 2011) -- The prosecution and defense rested today after delivering their closing statements in the Article 32 hearing of a Soldier charged with leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Today's session, which adjourned at about 10:30 a.m., wrapped up eight days of pre-trial proceedings in the case against Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning that began Dec. 16.

An Article 32 hearing, often compared to a civilian grand jury, is a pretrial hearing to determine if grounds exist for a general court martial, the most serious of courts martial.

The investigating officer, Army Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, now has until Jan. 16 to issue his recommendations to the special court-martial convening authority, according to a Military District of Washington spokesperson.

Alamanza may ask for an extension, if needed, the official said.

His report will recommend that the case be referred to a court martial, or that some or all of the charges against Manning be dismissed.

The special court-martial convening authority, Col. Carl Coffman, will then provide Alamanza's recommendation to the general court-martial convening authority, and indicate whether he concurs with it, the MDW official said.

Manning, an intelligence analyst, is suspected of leaking military and diplomatic documents to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks in what officials believe is the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history.

WikiLeaks, in turn, released thousands of these documents, including classified records about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on its website last year.

At the time, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other senior defense officials condemned the organization's actions, claiming the act put deployed service members at an increased risk.

The Article 32 hearing marked 24-year-old Manning's first appearance in a military court since his arrest in Iraq in May 2010.

He faces more than 20 charges alleging he introduced unauthorized software onto government computers to extract classified information, unlawfully downloaded it, improperly stored it, and transmitted the data for public release and use by the enemy.

The charge of aiding the enemy under Article 104 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice is a capital offense. However, the prosecution team has said it won't recommend the death penalty, a legal official said.

If convicted of all charges, Manning would face a maximum punishment of life in prison. He also could be reduced to E-1, the lowest enlisted grade, face a total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and dishonorable discharge, officials said.

The eight-day hearing began with the defense calling for Almanza to disqualify himself from the hearing for bias or perception of bias. Almanza serves as an Army Reserve military judge as well as the deputy chief of the Justice Department's child exploitation and obscenity section.

Defense lawyer David E. Coombs argued there was a conflict of interest since the Justice Department has an ongoing criminal investigation regarding this case.

Almanza also allowed all of the government's 20 witnesses and only two of the defense's 38 witnesses, who were not in common with the government. Coombs also argued the fact that the hearing was open, not closed, which might allow prejudicial information to impact the trial. Finally, Almanza was allowing unsworn statements from the prosecution to be considered, Coombs added.

After lengthy recesses and with input from the defense, the government and his legal advisor, Almanza denied the defense's request for a recusal and for a stay, or delay, of proceedings.

Almanza said he doesn't believe that "a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances" of the case would question his impartiality, and stressed that no aspect of his civilian work is involved with or relates to Manning's case.

Manning, dressed in an Army combat uniform, his hair cut short and with black-rimmed glasses, sat between his civilian lawyer Coombs, and his two military lawyers. The Soldier was attentive throughout, eyes forward and his hands clasped or fiddling with a pen, taking notes occasionally.

When asked if he understood the charges and if he was satisfied with his representation, he answered "Yes sir" each time in a soft-spoken tone.

Page last updated Tue December 27th, 2011 at 07:43