U.S. Files New Charges Against Army WikiLeaks Suspect

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Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London inside a prison van with red windows on Dec. 14, 2010

Even as documents believed to be leaked by Army PFC Bradley Manning are helping trigger revolutions now sweeping North Africa and the Persian Gulf, the U.S. government late Wednesday levied charges against the 23-year old that could sentence him to death.

The key charge involves an alleged violation of Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that could lead to his execution:

THE SPECIFICATION: In that Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, U.S. Army, did, at or near Contingency Operating Station Hammer, Iraq, between on or about 1 November 2009 and on or about 27 May 2010, without proper authority, knowingly give intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means.

The 22 new charges allege that he downloaded unauthorized software onto government computers, used it to get classified information, improperly stored it, and sent it on for use by the enemy. "The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that PFC Manning is accused of committing," said Capt. John Haberland, a legal spokesman for U.S. Army Military District of Washington.

The good news, from Manning's perspective: Army officials have made clear they plan to spare Manning's life, and simply consign him to the penitentiary for the rest of it, assuming they can win a conviction. If convicted of all charges, Manning would face a maximum punishment of confinement for life, reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge (such a discharge would bar him from VA benefits, but he'd likely get health care as a federal prisoner, so that's a wash to some degree).

The documents don't specify the documents at the core of the case, but they are believed to be the diplomatic cables and war logs posted on-line by WikiLeaks over the past year. They have caused worldwide embarrassment as well as an interesting peek into the back-and-forth of U.S. diplomacy and battlefield reports from Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Over the past few weeks, the defense has been preparing for the possibility of additional charges in this case," Manning's attorney, David Coombs, noted on his blog. "Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial."

In a second posting, Coombs noted the breadth of the military's definition of "enemy": "`Enemy' includes (not only) organized opposing forces in time of war, (but also any other hostile body that our forces may be opposing) (such as a rebellious mob or a band of renegades) (and includes civilians as well as members of military organizations). (`Enemy' is not restricted to the enemy government or its armed forces. All the citizens of one belligerent are enemies of the government and the citizens of the other.)"

The name of Manning's "accuser" as well as that of the staff judge advocate who signed the affidavit are redacted from the publicly-released documents. Ever since 9/11, data that used to be freely available in military documents has been barred from public view.

The Army also has indicated that Manning was able to do what he is charged with doing because his superiors were asleep at the switch, suggesting additional Army personnel could be charged in connection with the case. The next step in Manning's legal trek is likely to be an Article 32 hearing – the military equivalent of a grand-jury proceeding – in late spring. Currently being held in a Marine brig at Quantico, Va., Manning's case has been on hold as the government and his defense attorneys try to determine if he is mentally competent to be prosecuted.