WIKILEAKS SUSPECT Bradley Manning had permission to read secret US diplomatic cables and should not be charged with an electronic “break-in” of government computers, his defense lawyer has told a military court.
David Coombs, the civilian lawyer for Manning, asked a military judge at a pre-trial hearing to dismiss two counts against his client, saying that the US Army private did not steal a password or otherwise hack into a government computer network when he downloaded classified State Department cables.
Prosecutors were failing to recognise “uncomfortable facts” in the case and Manning never circumvented any “electronic gate” when he downloaded sensitive files, Coombs told the court.
But government prosecutors said the ‘Wget’ software he used, which is designed to retrieve files quickly and download them for local reading, was not authorised – and that Manning’s actions therefore “amounted to a trespass because it was done without authority.”
Coombs acknowledged that Manning could be charged with a lesser offense by using the software, which he said was akin to a worker violating contractual terms set down by a company for computer use.
Manning’s attorneys made their case at the start of five days of pre-trial hearings that resumed today at Fort Meade, northeast of Washington. The trial is tentatively due to start in September.
Lawyers for Manning are expected to argue this week that prosecutors must show their client intended to give sensitive intelligence to Al-Qaeda when he passed secret documents to the whistleblower website.
The most serious charge facing Manning is that he allegedly aided “the enemy” by passing on a trove of classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.
Prosecutors contend they only have to prove that Manning knew Al-Qaeda might see the sensitive intelligence posted by WikiLeaks, while the defence argues that the government has to demonstrate the army private “knowingly and intentionally gave intelligence to the enemy,” according to defense motions filed before the hearing.
Manning, 24, could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy by handing hundreds of thousands of classified documents — including military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and sensitive diplomatic cables — to the WikiLeaks website. He has not yet entered a plea.
The leak triggered a diplomatic firestorm that left US officials red-faced over criticism of both allies and foes.