A US investigating officer has recommended that Bradley Manning be court-martialed for allegedly funneling hundreds of thousands of classified US documents to WikiLeaks, the US Army said on Thursday.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, the investigating officer, “concluded 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 US Army Military District of Washington said in a statement. “He recommended that the charges be referred to a general court-martial.”
The charges include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing it is accessible to the enemy, theft of public property or records, transmitting defense information and computer fraud.
If convicted, Manning, an army private before the WikiLeaks furor erupted, could be sentenced to life in prison for what authorities have described as one of the most serious intelligence breaches in US history.
The recommendation followed a seven-day pre-trial hearing last month presided over by Almanza to determine if there was sufficient evidence to try the 24-year-old private from Oklahoma.
Defense attorneys said in the conclusion of those proceedings that the charges should be reduced. However, Almanza recommended that he be referred to a military court for trial on all 22 counts against him.
Manning is accused of giving WikiLeaks a massive trove of US military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, 260,000 classified US Department of State cables, Guantanamo detainee assessments and videos of US air strikes.
Trained on various intelligence systems, Manning served in Iraq from November 2009 until his arrest the following May.
The anti-secrecy Web site began releasing the military documents in July 2010. It dumped the entire archive of diplomatic documents in September last year, causing huge embarrassment to Washington.
Army investigators told last month’s hearing that contact information for WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, military reports, cables and other classified material had been found on computers and storage devices used by Manning.
“We’re disappointed, but by no means surprised,” said Jeff Patterson, a leader of a support network backing Manning. “The investigating officer showed no concern for the conflict of interest caused by his dual employment with the justice department, or the taint of bias arising from his commander-in-chief, [US] President Barack Obama, who publicly declared Manning to be guilty long before he ever had his day in court.”
In his closing statement in the pre-trial hearing, Manning’s civilian defense attorney, David Coombs, said the government “overcharged in this case,” and he urged Almanza to reduce the charges to just three counts that would carry a total of 30 years in prison.