Bradley Manning appears in court for WikiLeaks-related pretrial hearing; defense alleges bias

Bradley Manning appeared in court at Fort Meade in Maryland this morning for the start of a pretrial hearing, to determine whether he will face a court-martial. Manning, whose 24th birthday is tomorrow, faces up to a lifetime in military prison for allegedly releasing hundreds of thousands of secret US state documents and national security secrets to WikiLeaks. Today was the first time Manning has appeared in public since being arrested in Iraq in May 2010.

According to The Guardian, security was tight at the start of the pretrial hearing this morning -- press, legal council, and a "small group" of the public -- who reportedly lined up before dawn -- were allowed in the courtroom. The full charge sheet against Manning was finally made public; it includes 23 counts. Among the 23, Manning has been charged with knowingly giving "intelligence to the enemy" (read: WikiLeaks) "though indirect means," and causing information to be published "having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accessible to the enemy."

The Guardian also reports that each day's proceedings are expected to be extended late into the night, reporters will have little access to the world outside of the military base. Reporters were not allowed to record or photograph the proceedings, reports the Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post reports that at the opening session of the pretrial hearing, government and defense lawyers did not present arguments "on the substance of the charges against him" and instead spent time debating whether the presiding officer,  Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, should recuse himself from the case. Manning's civilian attorney David Coombs argued that Almanza's civilian occupation as a Justice Department prosecutor should disqualify him -- since there's an ongoing Justice Department investigation of Manning. But Almanza said he believes he is unbiased. And Capt. Ashden Fein, a member of the prosecution team, said he was unbiased. "The United States does not believe you've exhibited any bias in any form and that you can render a fair and impartial decision," said Fein, according to HuffPo. (Oh, well -- in that case . . . )

Court documents indicate Manning's lawyers will try to show that the damage to U.S. security caused by the leaks has been exaggerated by officials, reports the LA Times today. Manning's lawyers will also try to prove that the Army did not follow procedures for securing classified information.

It will likely take eight days for the presiding officer to make his recommendation on whether to court-martial Manning, said a U.S. military legal expert to reporters before the proceedings, according to Huff Po. Manning will be present at all proceedings, including sessions closed to the public for consideration of classified material.

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