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WikiLeaks-linked US soldier faces new charges

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 2, 2011
The US soldier suspected of passing a trove of confidential government documents to the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website on Thursday faced a raft of new charges including "aiding the enemy."

US military authorities unveiled 22 additional charges against Private Bradley Manning on Wednesday, including the serious accusation of "aiding the enemy," which carries a potential death sentence.

But military prosecutors do not plan to seek the death penalty if Manning is convicted and will instead opt for life in prison for the 23-year-old soldier, the army said in a statement.

"The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes" that Manning is accused of committing, said Captain John Haberland, spokesman for the military district of Washington.

Manning, a former low-ranking intelligence analyst in Iraq, is accused of knowingly giving "intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means," according to the charge sheets.

The US military had already announced 12 charges against Manning in July, accusing him of violating federal criminal and military law.

The Pentagon has yet to explicitly link Manning to WikiLeaks, but the charge sheets accuse him of illegally downloading hundreds of thousands of government documents and causing them to be "wantonly" published on the Internet.

Manning knew that "intelligence published on the Internet is accessible to the enemy," according to the court documents.

WikiLeaks infuriated US officials and shook up the diplomatic world by publishing a stream of sensitive US military files and diplomatic cables over the past several months.

Top US officials have accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of putting lives at risk and launched a criminal probe into the group.

The documents have included an array of embarrassing revelations and raised doubts about the US government's ability to safeguard secret documents and confidential communications.

Manning has long been suspected as the source of the leaks, but Assange has denied knowing the army private, describing him as a political prisoner.

On its Twitter account, WikiLeaks said the "aiding the enemy" charge "suggests WikiLeaks will be defined as 'the enemy.' A serious abuse."

In another tweet, the website called the charge "a vindictive attack on Manning for exercising his right to silence" and said there was no evidence for such an accusation.

Manning's lawyer, David Combs, issued a statement saying that defense attorneys had expected more charges to be filed.

But he said military law dictates that an investigating officer "determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial."

A close friend of Manning and a former judge advocate general who supports him were to give a press conference on Thursday at 1800 GMT.

The latest charges, following a seven-month investigation, include theft of public records, transmitting defense information and fraud related to computers, the army statement said.

A trial date has yet to be set for Manning and the army said Wednesday that proceedings have been delayed since July 12, 2010 pending the outcome of an inquiry into the soldier's "mental capacity" requested by defense lawyers.

Manning remained detained at a brig at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington, and was informed of the charges earlier Wednesday, the army said.

Manning's supporters and lawyers have complained about the conditions of his solitary confinement, saying the "maximum security" regime is inhumane and unnecessary.

But US officers have said the conditions are justified given the charges against Manning, which they say indicate he is a threat to national security.

Assange faces allegations of rape in Sweden, and a British judge has ruled he should be extradited.

The Australian former computer hacker says the claims against him by two women he met during a seminar organized by WikiLeaks in August are politically motivated because of his work.

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