Bradley Manning hearing – updates
• Pre-trial hearing gets under way at Forte Meade,
• Manning accused of leaking military secrets to Wikileaks
• Civilian lawyer petitions 'biased' judge to step down
• At the Guardian in
MW – The presiding judge in the Bradley Manning hearing has ruled against a defence motion that called on him to remove himself from the case.
The accused whistle-blower's lawyer, David Coombs, had argued that Lt Col Paul Almanza should recuse himself. He claimed the judge's work with the US Department of Justice – a body that is also investigating Manning's alleged crimes – gave cause to believe that he could be perceived as biased.
In making his decision, investigating officer Amanza said he did not believe a "reasonable person knowing all the circumstances" of the case would question his impartiality.
The session was again adjourned to give Manning's defence team time to file a writ to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals over the matter.
Amanza said he would not stay the current hearing while the body reviewed his decision. Instead it would continue while the appeals panel considered its ruling.
Here is a summary of events at Forte Meade today.
A military pre-trial hearing into the case of Bradley Manning, accused of the biggest leak of military secrets in
Manning's lawyer opened by demanding that the presiding officer, or judge, stand down because of a perception of bias. Lt Col Paul Almanza is a Department of Justice prosecutor, and the DoJ is leading the ongoing
Manning has been in court listening to proceedings. He has short brown hair, was wearing dark-rimmed glasses and military fatigues. It was the first time he has been seen in public since he was arrested in
MW – A helpful military lawyer has just been explaining what could happen if the presiding investigating officer comes back after the adjournment and decides he can continue without any perception of bias.
If Lt Col Paul Almanza does not recuse himself, the defence has indicated that it will file a writ with the army court of criminal appeals, the legal expert said. At that point the presiding office will face a choice of either continuing with the preliminary hearing while awaiting the appeal verdict, or halting proceedings until the ruling comes down.
EP / MW – We were warned this could be a stop-start affair and sure enough the hearing has now stopped for another recess while the judge, Lt Col Paul Almanza, makes a final decision on whether or not to recuse himself.
What's just happened is that he has allowed both the prosecution side – the
The government lawyer, Ashden Fein, argued that Almanza passes the test. "The
Fein, dressed in military fatigues and addressing Almanza as "Sir" went on to quiz the investigating officer about his dealings at the department of justice where he works as a prosecutor. Almanza said that in his work at the department he had had no contact with the department's on-going criminal investigation into WikiLeaks or Manning.
The prosecution also took Almanza through all the respective complaints made by the defence relating to the Article 32 hearing and asked the investigating officer whether he had properly followed the rules for the proceedings. He said that he had.
Fein concluded: "The
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, addressed the court again. Coombs is pretty forceful in his presentation style, theatrical almost. He has a shaved head and though he is wearing a dark suit, that carries with him still some of his bearing as a former military officer.
At one point he turned to the public benches and said: "An Article 32 is part of the military justice system. Is this the best you can do?"
Almanza intervened. "Mr Coombs, who are you addressing?"
"The public," he replied.
Coombs added that Almanza's work for the Department of Justice should disqualify him from presiding, given that the department is currently investigating Manning. "That simple fact alone would cause a reasonable person to say, 'you know what, I question his impartiality.'
"The media has already done so. Clearly the government had hundreds of people it could have chosen from (to preside over the hearing), but they chose you, a member of the Department of Justice."
That coupled with "how you have consistently ruled against the defence" could lead to claims of bias, Coombs suggested.
The judge has now ordered a break of about an hour and a half and will presumably tell us whether he's going to carry on with the case after lunch.
Before the court was recessed, Coombs lobbed one last bomb shell. He said that if Almanza rules that he would not be perceived to be biased by that hypothetical "reasonable person", then the defence will ask for a stay in the case to allow them to consider their next move.
Our investigations editor, David Leigh, has been mulling over the hearing so far. This is what he says:
It was never very likely that the young
The proceedings at
The attempts by David Coombs, Manning's lawyer, to have the judge recuse himself, as well as being legal theatre, have so far thrown up two striking features.
The first is the disclosure that the defence team unsuccessfully asked for the hearing to be held in secret. Coombs is signalling that a torrent of unwelcome prosecution claims are likely to be poured over Manning's head in public, with little chance for him to rebut them.
The second point of interest is that Coombs has started to air the popular conspiracy theory, which may indeed be well-founded, that his client has been locked up and harshly treated for the past 18 months, in the hope that he would agree to "go over" and testify against Julian Assange, the Australian hacker to whom he allegedly sent the leaked diplomatic cables, causing an international furore.
Claiming the investigating officer, Lt-Col Paul Almanza, has links to the Justice Department's attempts to build a case against Assange, Coombs told the court: "If the Department of Justice got their way, they would get a plea in this case, and get my client to be named as one of the witnesses to go after Julian Assange and Wikileaks.""
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in
British prosecutors raised the possiblity today that, even if Assange loses in February, he could still prolong his stay in
Assange and his supporters will therefore be closely watching today's proceedings against Manning, to see what further is said that could prove Manning had a conspiratorial link with Assange.
MW – The hearing has resumed at at
Zack Pesavento, spokesman for the Bradley Manning Support Network, told us he could see "several busloads" of military police personnel, while other officers have been positioned inside the perimeter fence.
He added that despite their presence, the atmosphere has been "cordial" throughout the morning. Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement have been joined by local veterans at the vigil, Pesavento said.
A producer for Al-Jazeera English, Camille Elhassani, complains on Twitter about the
Once the #Manning hearing starts again, I'll have to shut down my computer. Army rules. A veneer of openness but not transparency.
Ed Pilkington tweets that reporters are being called back into the court room now. When the court is in session, journalists are not able to able to file updates, nor even to be in contact with the outside world. This means that we don't know when the next update from the courtroom will be. But when Ed or Matt are next in contact, we'll file an update here.
MW – We have just had a briefing from a military lawyer as to the options facing the investigating officer. If he agrees to the defence motion to recuse himself, the Article 32 hearing – the official name for this process – will be postponed.
There is no indication as to length of delay, but there is no immediate replacement who can step in. A military spokeswoman said the likely delay would not be as long as it took to get to the preliminary stage in the first place.
If he doesn't recuse himself, the defence team can appeal, but it would not stop the Article 32 hearing proceeding as stands. Any objections can be taken up by the judge if the case does go to a court-martial.
MW – Aside from press and legal counsel, a small group of members of the public were allowed inside the courtroom.
Admittance was decided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Those who got in had queued at the military base since "predawn", a military media liaison officer said.
PBS reporter Arun Rath attests to the intense media interest in the case, posting a picture of the pre-dawn traffic at the gates of Forte Meade.
A vigil in support of Manning was due to take place outside the main gates of
EP – Manning supporters are sitting in the public gallery remaining silent, during the opening session. They were warned by the investigating officer at the start that they will be removed if they interrupt the hearing.
Manning himself has been taking notes intermittently. He was asked by Almanza a series of procedural questions.
"Yes sir", he replied in a quiet voice on being asked if he understood the charges, his entitlement to representation and whether he was satisfied with his counsel.
EP – The hearing has just opened with a dramatic statement by Bradley Manning's civilian lawyer, David Coombs. In effect, he's demanded that the presiding judge – known in an Article 32 hearing like this as the investigating officer – takes himself off the hearing because he is biased and a stooge of the defence department.
Coombs turned tails on the court and started cross-examining the judge in astonishing scenes. The lawyer gave four reasons why the invesigating officer, Lt Col Paul Almanza, should recuse himself.
First, Almanza has worked since 2002 as a prosecutor for the
"You have been at the Department of Justice since 2002, by your own admission you have prosecuted 20 cases. And the DoJ has an on going investigation in this case.
Mr Coombes added: "If the Department of Justice got their way, they would get a plea in this case, and get my client to be named as one of the witnesses to go after Julian Assange and Wikileaks."
Second, Coombs complained about the way his desired list of defence witnesses was rebutted by the judge. The prosecution, he said, asked for 20 witnesses and was granted every one.
By contrast, Coombs asked for 48 witnesses and had only two approved. "Two out of 48!" he exclaimed. "In a case in which the government has charged [Manning] with aiding the enemy which carries the maximum sentence right now of death!"
He added: "A reasonable person would see the investigation officer as biased", he added in regards to the witness list.
Third, Coombs complained that he had asked for the entire Article 32 hearing to be conducted in private, but the judge had again rebutted the request. He said that media reporting of the proceedings would prejudice the minds of any future jurors in a full court-martial.
Fourth, he protested that he was not allowed to call witnesses who would challenge the nature of the material that was leaked to WikiLeaks and question the harm that it caused the
"Why are we here a year and a half later?" the lawyer asked. "The government has asked for delay after delay after delay."
Coombs said that Almanza's decision to allow unsworn statements about the WikiLeaks documents, against the wishes of the defence, was a clear breach of the Rules of Court-Martial that governs the Article 32 hearing. He said, referring to WikiLeaks, that "all of this has been leaked, and a year and a half later this is what you are doing? What's the damage? What's the harm?"
He concluded: "We request that you consider this motion and after doing so recuse yourself in this case."
Faced with this extraordinary bombardment directed against himself, Almanza has now called a break in the proceedings to consider whether he should remove himself from the judge's seat. We knew this hearing was going to be strange, but already this has entered the realm of the surreal.
Manning himself has been in court listening to all this. He has short brown hair, is wearing slightly Joe 90-style dark-rimmed glasses, and military fatigues.
EP – The full charge sheet for Manning was released for the first time before the start of proceedings. It includes a total of 23 counts against the soldier, the most serious of which is that Manning knowingly gave "intelligence to the enemy, though indirect means".
The idea that WikiLeaks constituted an "enemy", or a conduit to an enemy of the
Manning is charged with passing information from a secure database containing more than 250,000 records belonging to the
Another count refers to the first act of publication by WikiLeaks in February 2010 of a
EP – Bradley Manning will be seen in public for the first time since he was arrested in
Security will be exceptionally – some say bizarrely – tight at the opening on Friday of the pre-trial hearing of the WikiLeaks suspect at
Only 10 journalists will be allowed into the courtroom for Bradley #Manning hearing. All others will be watching on CCTV in media center.
The army has come under criticism for taking so long to bring Manning to trial, and faces further questions over how it is conducting the start of deliberations. The hearing is a preliminary stage, known as an Article 32, equivalent to a civilian pre-trial hearing and is designed to assess whether the
Manning was charged in March with 37 counts relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks from secure
It was the largest leak of
Supporters of the soldier will be outside
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