WikiLeaks suspect's motive no defense: US judge
A US military judge ruled that Bradley Manning's motive for allegedly leaking a huge cache of secret files to WikiLeaks is no defense against the long list of charges he faces.
Manning, an army private who was arrested in May 2010 while serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces trial in June for passing diplomatic cables and war logs to the anti-secrecy website run by Julian Assange.
Manning's lawyers had argued that evidence should be heard at trial about why the soldier chose to illicitly transmit the confidential documents to WikiLeaks, but the request was largely thrown out.
In what amounts to a boost for the government, Judge Denise Lind, a colonel, said Manning's motive was not a valid defense.
Much of the ruling, given at the latest pre-trial hearing at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland, near Washington, was inaudible to reporters because of technical difficulties with the live television link to the courtroom.
But a US Army legal advisor confirmed afterwards that Manning's motive could only be examined to argue that he did not "knowingly aid the enemy," chiefly Al-Qaeda, by uploading and releasing the files.
"In those circumstances evidence can be presented, but otherwise, motive is not relevant, unless the government opens the door in some other way," the advisor said, explaining the judge's ruling.
Manning's motives, however, could resurface in mitigation at sentencing if he bids for leniency upon an eventual conviction.
WikiLeaks published the files on the Internet in several massive "data dumps," causing deep embarrassment in Washington, outrage among US allies and culminating in the biggest security breach in American history.
Advocates of government transparency say the cables and war logs relating to Iraq and Afghanistan shed light on US activities abroad, but opponents say they endangered diplomats and their sources and were a gift to America's enemies.
Manning's trial on 22 counts of breaching national security and committing misconduct has been delayed several times but is now scheduled to start on June 3.
The 25-year-old faces life imprisonment if he is convicted of the most serious charge that he "aided the enemy," that is if he acted in the knowledge the information could eventually be accessed by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Manning has been in custody since his arrest in Iraq, most notably being held at a US Marine Corps jail in Quantico, Virginia, in harsh conditions that judge Lind had earlier ruled as "excessive" and at times illegal.
Any sentence Manning eventually receives will be reduced by 112 days because of his treatment at Quantico, where he was detained for nine months until being moved in April 2011 to a US Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One week ago, Manning's civilian defense lawyer David Coombs introduced a proposal under which the soldier would plead guilty to 14 charges that would lead to a total of 20 years in prison, versus the original 22 felony counts.
A hearing in February will consider the plan. But the offer does not include a plea on the "aiding the enemy" charge, which would still need to come to trial.
In court on Wednesday, the prosecution sought to refute a defense motion that the case be dismissed because Manning was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Major Ashden Fein said the government has "continually worked" the case and exceeded the "reasonable diligence" standard required despite the complex nature of the charges and the sheer mass of documents involved.
Coombs, however, countered that the proceedings had moved at "a snail's pace."
"There are no winners when justice is delayed," he added.
Manning's supporters held placards outside Fort Meade before the start of Wednesday's hearing, one of which read: "964 days jailed without trial."