WikiLeaks Suspect Makes First Court Appearance

From Agence FrancePresse:

A US soldier accused of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks appeared in court Friday for the first time, with the defense immediately calling for the presiding officer to step down.

Bradley Manning, a former intelligence analyst, is accused of downloading 260,000 US diplomatic cables, videos of US air strikes and US military reports from Afghanistan and Iraq between November 2009 and May 2010.

But his defense lawyer urged the investigating officer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, to recuse himself from the case involving one of the worst intelligence breaches in American history.

“The defense is filing a motion for you to recuse yourself,” civilian lawyer David Coombs said after the hearing, Manning’s first appearance in court since his arrest in May 2010, got underway.

The hearing, being held in a courthouse on Fort Meade, the headquarters of the top secret National Security Agency, immediately went into recess for the request to be considered.

The so-called Article 32 hearing is to decide whether Manning, who turns 24 on Saturday, should face a formal court-martial — a determination made by the investigating officer.

Manning, dressed in a green camouflage uniform and wearing thick black glasses, appeared calm as he sat at the defense table, fiddling with a pen, jotting down notes and chatting with his civilian and military attorneys.

Besides Coombs, Manning is represented by two military-appointed lawyers at the hearing, which is being attended by around four dozen members of the public and media from around the world.

Manning, who was serving in Iraq at the time of the alleged offenses, could face life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the 22 charges he is facing.

The hearing opened with the investigating officer reading the charges against Manning, asking whether he understood the charges, his rights and was satisfied with his defense counsel.

“Yes, sir,” Manning replied crisply to each question.

When it was his turn to speak, Coombs, Manning’s civilian lawyer, immediately demanded that Almanza recuse himself from the case.

Coombs questioned whether Almanza, a US Army reservist who is on leave from his job as a prosecutor at the Justice Department, could be impartial in deciding whether the case should proceed to a court-martial.

Coombs said Almanza had also rejected most of the witnesses requested by the defense — which had included US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former defense secretary Robert Gates — and that was evidence of bias.

“An individual looking at this from the outside, a reasonable person, would say clearly this is biased,” he said.

Coombs also said Almanza had rejected a defense request for portions of the hearing to be closed.

Military prosecutors then asked for a recess to consider the defense motion.

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