In Manning case, sparring over digital evidence

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) - December 19, 2011

As Pfc. Bradley Manning's preliminary hearing carried on for a fourth day, the government had called 15 of an expected 21 witnesses. Expected to last several more days, the hearing at an Army installation near Washington is to determine whether Manning should be court-martialed on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, the 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., could face life in prison.

Monday's testimony focused on a forensic examination of Manning's two workplace computers, which a government witness said contained 110,000 State Department diplomatic cables.

On cross-examination, though, digital-crimes investigator David Shaver testified there was little indication the cables were disseminated. Some of those cables didn't match any of those published by WikiLeaks. He said 10,000 were in a corrupted file that could only be opened with special tools, possibly explaining why they weren't released, he said. At least 100,000 couldn't be matched to Manning's user profile and may not have been sent anywhere.

In camouflaged Army fatigues and dark rimmed-glasses, Manning was more animated Monday, conferring more often with his defense attorneys. He had sat calmly through most of the weekend, listening intently to the witnesses and occasionally writing on a pad of paper. He hasn't spoken in the last three days, except when he has leaned over to consult with his military lawyers or civilian attorney, David Coombs, and always after switching off the defense table microphone for privacy.

The hearing is taking place in a small courtroom with seats for only about 50. Seven of the witnesses testified by phone from Hawaii, Germany, Arizona and other locations, their voices coming over a speaker phone on the witness stand. Computer logs and other evidence documents are projected on two large-screen monitors.

Manning is accused of illegally leaking a trove of secret information that surfaced on WikiLeaks, a breach that rattled U.S. foreign relations and, according to the government, imperiled valuable military and diplomatic sources.

Defense attorneys argue the leaked material did little or no damage to U.S. interests. But a decision by the presiding officer, Paul Almanza, to remove spectators and reporters for a half-hour of the hearing Monday morning augured poorly for Manning's defense.

By ruling the diplomatic and military information in question should somehow remain secret, even though it has been published by media around the world, Almanza effectively undermined the defense argument that no harm was done and the information might as well be public.

Manning supporters fumed. The defense already has appealed for Almanza to be removed from the case because of his civilian job with the Justice Department, which is conducting a separate investigation of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange.

Almanza "is seeking to prevent journalists and the public from reporting on testimony related to materials that are already in the public domain," lamented a group called the Bradley Manning Support Network. It also complained that unnamed "relevant government agencies" were not included in the blackout.

Two supporters had run-ins with military police Monday. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg was escorted out of court when he approached Manning during a recess to introduce himself. He was later allowed to return. But Daniel Choi - a soldier kicked out of the military under the now-repealed policy against gays serving openly - was ejected from the base after allegedly ignoring a warning not to heckle military police, according to defense officials.

Shaver's testimony Sunday illustrated how the government connected the dots in its case accusing Manning of committing traitorous leaks from his perch as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad.

He told the hearing that in addition to thousands of State Department cables, he found several versions of a deadly 2007 helicopter attack video and secret assessments of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, terrorist detainees. He also said he discovered evidence that someone had used the computer to streamline the downloading of cables with the apparent aim of "moving them out."

All the material was linked to the username "bradley.manning" or Manning's user profile, Shaver said. And the other computer was used to conduct scores of online searches for the anti-secrecy web site WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, he said.

Another investigator, civilian contractor Mark Johnson, testified Monday that he found records on Manning's personal computer of Internet chats in which the defendant confessed to leaking the information. Manning's online correspondent was Adrian Lamo, a former hacker, who gave the chat logs to authorities, leading to Manning's arrest in May 2010.

Manning's lawyers have neither acknowledged nor denied that the intelligence analyst was behind the leaks.

His defense has also challenged the government to explain why a private said to have upended furniture in fits of rage and exhibited a pattern of troubled behavior was allowed to keep working with highly sensitive information. A supervisor who might have shed light on that question refused to testify.

After Almanza's recommendation, the Army says it may take several weeks for the commander of the Military District of Washington to decide whether Manning will be court-martialed.

Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington may choose other courses, including administrative punishment or dismissal of some or all counts. He also could add more charges based on evidence produced at the hearing.

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