A US military judge on Monday ordered US Army prosecutors to account for their actions amid accusations they withheld evidence from lawyers for a US Army private charged in the biggest leak of classified information in the country’s history.
The ruling by Colonel Denise Lind was a partial victory for Private First Class Bradley Manning’s defense team, which claimed prosecutors have shirked their duty to share evidence, including assessments by government agencies of the damage done by WikiLeaks’ online publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and war logs.
Manning is charged with aiding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula by sending the material to the secret-sharing Web site, while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.
The 24-year-old faces possible life imprisonment if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the 22 charges against him. His trial is currently set to begin on Sept. 21, but Lind has said it would likely be postponed to November or January next year.
Defense lawyer David Coombs contends the damage assessments would reveal the leaks did little harm to national security and foreign relations.
“Normally, these games are not played,” Coombs said. “You hand over discovery and let the facts speak. You don’t play hide-the-ball, and that’s what the government’s been doing.”
US Army Major Ashden Fein maintained that prosecutors are meeting their obligation as they continue to comb relevant documents for pertinent material. He said the process is time-consuming because it involves requests for information from 63 government agencies.
“The defense is receiving the information they’re entitled to receive,” Fein said.
Nevertheless, Lind ordered prosecutors to draft a “due diligence statement,” describing in detail their efforts to obtain and share such material in the more than two years since Manning was charged.
Coombs says the prosecution’s failures have already affected Manning’s right to a fair trial.
Lind also ordered prosecutors to turn over damage assessments compiled by the US Department of State and the US Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, among other documents, for her review.