Human Rights

Despite Manning Defense Objection, Judge Rules that Evidence Obtained During Bin Laden Raid Can Be Used in Trial

An "operator," presumably a member of Seal Team 6, scheduled to testify as prosecution tries to prove Manning "aided the enemy."

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

Digital files obtained during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden can be used to determine whether Wikileaks’ leaker Army Pfc. Bradley Manning “aided” Al Qaeda, a judge ruled during a pre-trial hearing Wednesday.

Manning pled guilty to leaking classified information, but denied aiding the enemy, the most serious charge leveled against him.

As Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola reported from Fort Meade, Judge Denise Lind rejected a motion from Manning’s defense to disallow files obtained from Bin Laden’s compound on the basis that “evidence of circumstances surrounding receipt is relevant to whether he did give it to the enemy.”

According to court documents Tweeted by independent journalist Alexa O’Brien, the defense argued that such files are “not relevant” and serve “unfair prejudices” and “confusion of the issues.” Part of their argument rests on the question of “receipt.” As Gosztola notes, whether Bin Laden accessed files leaked by Manning does not prove the soldier personally passed them along to Al Qaeda: 

No evidence has been presented yet to indicate that Manning gave information to WikiLeaks and then someone within WikiLeaks turned around and passed that information to an Al Qaeda member. The government is making its entire argument on the fact that it was published to the Internet and accessible to the “enemy” and, therefore, Manning “aided the enemy.”

Judge Lind added that it is up to the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pfc. Manning had “reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the US,” raising the bar for conviction. The ruling follows along the same lines as Manning’s defense argument that the government must prove that Manning demonstrated “general evil intent” when he leaked hundreds of thousands of war logs, State Department cables and battlefield footage showing a helicopter gunman shooting journalists and children to Wikileaks between 2009 and 2010. Manning has stated that he carefully chose files that would expose American “bloodlust” and “seemingly criminal activity that didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.”

Lind also accepted a request from the government to call a witness who is likely one of the Navy SEALs who participated in the raid at Abbottabad that killed Bin Laden. The witness will appear in a disguise during a hearing closed off from the press and public, one of several closed or partially closed testimonies scheduled to place during Manning’s military tribunal. Gosztola reports that the government wants to bar the defense from accessing the witness on the grounds that it “could reveal his true identity.”

If convicted of “aiding the enemy,” Manning could face life in prison without parole. His trial is scheduled to begin June 3 at Fort Meade.

h/t Firedoglake, Salon

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.

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