WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - U.S. national
security officials are questioning a decision by military
prosecutors to allege that Army Private Bradley Manning aided Al
Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate by leaking documents to the
At a procedural hearing on Thursday at Ft. Meade, Maryland
in preparation for Manning's court-martial, a military judge
said defense lawyers had asked for particulars of a charge that
Manning had aided an enemy.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, read a document from
prosecutors which identified the enemy as "Al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula," one of Al Qaeda's most potent affiliates and
known in the counter-terrorism world as AQAP.
She added that prosecutors had said Manning indirectly aided
this group by providing material to WikiLeaks.
Defense Department spokesmen had no comment on the claims. A
spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington, whose
prosecutors are pursuing the case against Manning, did not
respond to messages requesting comment.
On Friday, Colonel Lind denied requests by Manning's lawyers
to interview witnesses who could comment on classification
issues and the national security damage of Manning's alleged
leaks. A trial is expected later this year.
Manning, 24, faces life in prison if convicted of aiding the
enemy, the most serious of 22 charges against him. Other charges
include wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the
Internet and theft of public property.
Numerous U.S. defense and security officials contacted by
Reuters said they did not know what specific aid Manning's
alleged leaks to WikiLeaks provided to AQAP.
Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who left his
position after criticizing Army brass for the harsh confinement
regimen imposed on Manning, described the aiding the enemy
charge as "unnecessary and an overreach.
"It's a hard case and an unnecessary case to make. ... It
undermines the credibility of the prosecution," Crowley said.
Other U.S. officials, all of whom asked for anonymity, said
they were unaware of specific benefits to AQAP which had been
afforded by leaks of U.S. government files to WikiLeaks.
Three current and one former U.S. national security official
said it was possible that militant groups like Al Qaeda could
glean information about American counter-terrorism strategy and
tactics by poring through hundreds of thousands of U.S.
government documents, including field reports from military
units in Iraq and Afghanistan, WikiLeaks made public.
But these officials said they had no information about how
specific items acquired by WikiLeaks might have aided AQAP.
"The alleged disclosure of classified information, while
deplorable, does not in and of itself constitute an act of
terrorism," said one current official, who requested anonymity.
AKIN TO ACCUSATION OF TREASON
Civil liberties advocates argued it was inappropriate for
prosecutors to have charged Manning with aiding the enemy. The
charge could carry the death penalty, although Manning case
prosecutors say they will not seek capital punishment.
Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union,
said charges of aiding the enemy have not historically been
proffered against suspects not accused of communicating directly
with an enemy. He said the charge is akin to an accusation of
"To apply it to this kind of conduct is breathtaking,"
Wizner said. "It means any time a Pentagon spokesman stands up
at the podium he's aiding the enemy.
"What it really means is that any newspaper who publishes
these leaks is aiding the enemy," he said. "The logic of the
charge suggests that any time any member of the military says
anything that might reach Al Qaeda, that member of the military
is aiding the enemy.
"I think this is a gross violation of the First Amendment to
apply this provision to someone who shared info with the press
apparently with the intention of educating the public, not
aiding the enemy," Wizner added.
Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent British human rights lawyer
who has represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in his
extradition fight against questioning in Sweden in a sexual
misconduct investigation, said after WikiLeaks started posting
secret U.S. government documents in 2010, "it was widely
predicted that Julian Assange would have blood on his hands."
To date, however, no deadly or injurious attacks on anyone
have been attributed to WikiLeaks publication of official U.S.
files, Robertson claimed.
Authorities have been suggesting for months that Manning
might have aided a U.S. enemy via WikiLeaks. At last year's
preliminary hearing, prosecutor Ashden Fein showed the court a
sub-titled video of an al Qaeda recruiter who, citing WikiLeaks,
urged followers to "take advantage of the wide range of
resources available today on the Internet."
Fein said Manning knew the information he allegedly leaked
could be used by enemies like "al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula and classified enemies." Prosecutors alluded to
evidence which included an AQAP magazine and a video featuring
an English-language spokesman for the group. An issue of AQAP's
"Inspire" magazine published in late 2010 quoted Assange.
U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks included
classified reports of talks between Gen. David Petraeus, then
U.S. military commander in the region, and then-Yemen president
Ali Abdullah Saleh about counter-terrorism cooperation.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Lily Kuo)
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