US judge refuses to dismiss key charge against Manning

A US military judge on Thursday rejected a request to dismiss a key charge that an American soldier aided the enemy by handing over secret files to the WikiLeaks website.

The judge refused to drop the charge, as well as a count of computer fraud, in the court-martial of Army private Bradley Manning, concluding that prosecutors had offered up enough evidence to allow the accusation to be decided in the espionage trial.

The defense had filed motions arguing for the dismissal of the "aiding the enemy" charge, as well as another count that Manning had allegedly broken rules governing the use of his government computer while he was deployed in Iraq.

Defense lawyer David Coombs had contended that prosecutors had failed to show Manning had "actual knowledge" that by passing a trove of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks he would be assisting Al-Qaeda, either directly or indirectly.

But the judge, Colonel Denise Lind, ruled that the charge would stand as the prosecution had offered evidence that Manning knew from his training that extremists use the Internet.

Her decision does not prejudge Manning's innocence or guilt on the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The computer fraud charge carries a possible ten-year prison term.

Manning already has admitted to giving hundreds of thousands of military intelligence files and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, and those lesser offenses could put him behind bars for up to 20 years.

The trial at Fort Meade in Maryland, north of Washington, started in June and is drawing to a close, with the judge expected to offer a final verdict in the case soon.

The disclosures from Manning mark the most serious leak of classified information in US history.

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