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Military Rules Guide Hearing In WikiLeaks Case

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Bradley Manning has told of leaking classified diplomatic reports, along with this secret video, to the whistleblower website Wikileaks.org.  (AP Photo)

Bradley Manning has told of leaking classified diplomatic reports, along with this secret video, to the whistleblower website Wikileaks.org. (AP Photo)

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FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — The case of an Army intelligence analyst suspected of passing government secrets to WikiLeaks goes to court this week, but the military proceedings won’t look familiar to most Americans raised on TV courtroom dramas, or to Pfc. Bradley Manning’s many overseas supporters, either.

Only the potential punishment sounds familiar: Manning could face life behind bars.

A hearing starting Friday for Manning at an Army post in Maryland probably will feature long hours, little grandstanding and a number of closed sessions for discussion of classified material, even though much of what Manning is suspected of giving to WikiLeaks has been published on the anti-secrecy group’s website.

The proceeding is to determine whether the Army intelligence analyst will be court-martialed for allegedly leaking government secrets. It’s part of a military justice system that mirrors civilian courts, but differs in important ways.

As the “Manual for Courts-Martial” rule book makes clear, the purpose of military law is to promote justice, maintain order and foster military efficiency, all in the interest of national security.

By contrast, the purpose of criminal prosecutions is to establish guilt for an alleged violation of law. Things that are not crimes, such as being chronically late for work, might be subject to military prosecution because the system is set up to promote order and discipline. In the civilian world, they might be grounds for firing or a nonjudicial reprimand.

Manning’s hearing will be open to the public, but seating for spectators and news media is limited by the courtroom’s relatively small size. No civilian cameras or recording equipment are allowed.

There will be a judge, but the officer acting in that role. The process is called an Article 32 investigation. That refers to a part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a set of laws enacted in 1950 to create a unified criminal code for all branches of the military. Article 32 investigations resemble civilian preliminary hearings, in which a judge decides whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial.

Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, confidential State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

The presiding official at an Article 32 hearing is called the investigating officer, not a judge. The investigating officer is often a military attorney, a judge advocate, but legal training isn’t required.

Military prosecutors represent the government, just as civilian prosecutors represent the state in civilian courts. All defendants are assigned military defense attorneys, but those facing serious charges often retain civilian lawyers to lead their defense.

Manning’s civilian lawyer is David E. Coombs, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel from Fall River, Mass., who has tried more than 130 military cases.

During an Article 32 hearing, lawyers can call witnesses and make motions, just as in civilian court. But the military tightly controls public access to written filings.

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.

Unlike a preliminary hearing in a criminal case, Military Article 32 proceedings can last for days.

Afterward, the investigating officer writes a report to the commander who ordered the investigation — in this case, the commander of the Military District of Washington, Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington — with a recommendation on how to proceed. Possible outcomes include a general court-martial, administrative punishment or dismissal of some or all of the charges.

There are three types of courts-martial. The general one at issue in this case is the most serious.

General courts-martial can impose the death penalty, although prosecutors have said they will not do so in Manning’s case. He faces a maximum sentence of life in a military prison, commonly known as a brig.

Manning is already very familiar with brigs. He’s been in at least three of them since his arrest.

Most recently Manning has been in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. It is a dramatic change from his previous quarters in a Virginia Marine Corps brig where he spent 23 hours a day alone in his cell.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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