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Judge recommends court-martial in Manning WikiLeaks case

A military judge says Bradley Manning should face a general court-martial after hearing arguments in an Article 32 hearing against the private.

A picture of Bradley Manning on a "SaveBradley" Facebook page.
A picture of Bradley Manning on a "SaveBradley" Facebook page. Screenshot by CNET

A military judge has advised the U.S. Army to court-martial Pfc. Bradley Manning after hearing arguments that he was allegedly involved in leaking documents to WikiLeaks.

Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, who is the military judge in the case, made the recommendation yesterday after listening to arguments during an Article 32 hearing. According to the U.S. Army, which released a statement on the hearing, the judge said that "the charges and specifications are in the proper form and that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged."

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported on the judge's recommendation.

Manning was charged in 2010 with allegedly providing boatloads of data to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including thousands of diplomatic cables and video of a widely publicized 2007 helicopter attack in Iraq. Last March, he was hit with 22 additional charges, including "aiding the enemy."

Manning has denied the charges.

Last month, Manning's defense team was dealt a serious blow when a digital-crimes investigator testified at a hearing that he found the cables and helicopter attack video on Manning's computer. The investigator, David Shaver, added that the computer had been used by someone to facilitate the downloading of cables with the eventual goal of "moving them out," the AP reported at the time. The data was linked to a "bradley.manning" username, Shaver told attorneys, adding that another government computer given to Manning was used to search for "WikiLeaks" and "Julian Assange."

A key component in Manning's defense could be that the alleged leaks did not in any way harm the U.S. government. Last month, his attorney, David Coombs, requested a copy of a White House report "detailing the rather benign nature of the leaks and the lack of any real damage to national security."

The stakes are high for Manning. Among the nearly two dozen claims, the government charges that he put U.S. national security in jeopardy. If he's found guilty of that charge, the 24-year-old could face life in prison. An argument that the leaks did not harm national security could earn him a much lesser sentence or the chance to strike a plea deal.

But there's a long way to go before any verdict is laid down, and Manning will have a chance to defend himself in the coming weeks and months.