By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - A U.S. Army private facing
court-martial for allegedly leaking secret documents to the
WikiLeaks website has offered to plead guilty to less serious
offenses than those with which he has been charged, his lawyer
In a blog post, David Coombs, attorney for accused WikiLeaks
source Bradley Manning, said late on Wednesday that Manning was
not actually pleading guilty to charges filed against him by
military prosecutors. The private faces life imprisonment if
convicted of the charges.
Those include stealing records belonging to the United
States and wrongfully causing them to be published on the
Internet and aiding enemies of the United States, identified by
prosecutors as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate
of the militant network founded by the late Osama bin Laden.
Instead, Manning is "attempting to accept responsibility for
offences that are encapsulated within, or are a subset of, the
charged offenses," Coombs wrote. He said it would be up to the
military court hearing Manning's case to decide whether it would
be "permissible" for Manning to take such action.
Coombs said the court had discretion to permit such a plea
without the agreement of prosecutors. But even if the court
decided a plea to lesser offenses were allowed, the government
could still pursue the more serious charges against Manning,
The lawyer added that Manning had decided to be tried by a
single military judge, rather than a judge and panel of military
Nathan Fuller, spokesman for the Bradley Manning Support
Network, an activist group, said it would be "very premature" to
conclude that a plea bargain deal would ultimately be struck.
Fuller said prosecutors had not yet replied to Manning's
offer to plead guilty to lesser charges, and that no ruling on
Manning's offer would occur before the government submitted its
Fuller said the court could rule on that and other issues
during a round of preliminary hearings scheduled for late
November. Prosecutors are expected at least to consider
Manning's offer, although there is no indication if they might
be willing to agree to a deal.
Prosecutors have alleged that Manning without authorization
disclosed hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables,
military reports and video of a military helicopter attack in
Iraq in which two Reuters journalists were killed.
WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Manning was the source of
any documents it released.
In pre-trial litigation, prosecutors have presented
testimony that legal experts say could be used to build a case
that Manning had been in email contact with Julian Assange,
WikiLeaks' Australian-born founder.
Earlier this year, Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden
from Britain for questioning in a sexual molestation case, took
refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Assange and his supporters have said the Swedish case
against him could be part of a secret plot to have him shipped
for trial to the United States and either executed or imprisoned
at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. officials have denied those assertions. But they have
acknowledged that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia,
has been collecting evidence about WikiLeaks and some of its
activists. Officials have not ruled out U.S. criminal charges
(Additional reporting by David Alexander)
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