Manning's defense team trying different strategies

FORT MEADE, Md. - December 20, 2011

It's unclear whether any of the arguments will hold sway in a preliminary hearing entering its fifth day Tuesday at an Army installation outside Washington. The case continues after the military released a text file purportedly discovered on a data card owned by Pfc. Bradley Manning, boldly stating the importance of data that would make its way to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks.

"This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day," Manning wrote, according to digital-crimes investigator David Shaver.

Almost 500,000 classified battlefield reports were also on the card, Shaver said, making the letter one of the most forceful pieces of evidence against the 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla.

Until Monday, the defense largely focused on painting Manning as an emotionally troubled gay man serving during the Army's "don't ask, don't tell" era, and arguing that the classified material proved harmless in the open. Manning's lawyers have yet to acknowledge or deny his responsibility for leaking of hundreds of thousands of U.S. war and diplomatic cables and a classified military video of an American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men.

In a back-and-forth on the digital case against Manning, the prosecution said evidence showed that Manning communicated directly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and bragged to someone else about leaking video of a 2007 helicopter attack to WikiLeaks.

Investigators pointed to one May 2010 exchange between Manning and a mathematician named Eric Schmiedl.

"Are you familiar with WikiLeaks?" Manning allegedly asked.

"Yes, I am," Schmiedl wrote.

"I was the source of the July 12, 2007, video from the Apache Weapons Team which killed the two journalists and injured two kids," Manning wrote, according to the prosecution.

In camouflaged Army fatigues and dark-rimmed glasses, Manning seemed to take in Monday's proceedings calmly. During one of several recesses, he leaned back and sat casually in his chair, chatting with a soldier from the defense team, gesturing with his hands, nodding his head and occasionally smiling. He sat up when attorneys re-entered the courtroom. And civilian attorney David Coombs put his arm around Manning's shoulder several times.

Manning is accused of illegally leaking a trove of secret information to WikiLeaks, a breach that rattled U.S. foreign relations and, according to the government, imperiled valuable military and diplomatic sources. By Monday, the government had called 15 of an expected 21 prosecution witnesses.

After the government rests, possibly on Tuesday, the defense is expected to call three witnesses, followed by closing arguments Tuesday or Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, the presiding officer, will then recommend to the commander of the Military District of Washington whether Manning should be court-martialed. It could take several weeks for a decision on whether he will be tried on the 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Almanza twice removed spectators and reporters from the hearing Monday for sessions dealing with classified information. By ruling the leaked diplomatic and military information should somehow remain secret, even though it has been published by media around the world, Almanza undermined the defense argument that no harm was done and the information might as well be public.

Manning supporters fumed. His defense also challenged thousands of cables found on Manning's workplace computers, arguing that some didn't match those published by WikiLeaks and that others couldn't be matched to the young private's user profile.

The defense is also expected to call at least three witnesses before Almanza makes his recommendation. The Army says it may then take several weeks for the commander of the Military District of Washington to decide whether Manning will be court-martialed.

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