The court-martial for Army Pfc. Bradley Manning begins today in Fort Meade, Md. Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of military and State Department documents that ended up being published by online organization WikiLeaks, in what has been described as the most extensive leak of classified information in U.S. history.
Manning, 25, faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. The trial is expected to last three months.
In the three years since first being detained during a combat deployment to Iraq, the former Army intelligence analyst has become a cause célèbre for civil liberties and anti-secrecy advocates who consider him a whistle-blower.
Army prosecutors consider him a traitor. The most serious of the 22 charges he faces is for aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. Prosecutors chose not to pursue the death penalty for the charge.
The additional charges include wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing that it is accessible to the enemy; theft of public property or records; transmitting defense information; fraud and related activity in connection with computers.
Manning pleaded guilty in February to 10 of the lesser charges that carried a 20-year prison sentence. At a pre-trial hearing, Manning read for an hour from a 35-page statement in which he explained his motivations in providing 700,000 government documents to WikiLeaks.
The documents included military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of thousands of State Department cables.
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