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One of the most controversial military espionage cases is about to take an interesting turn

At a hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland on Wednesday, David Coombs, attorney for U.S. private first class Bradley Manning, announced that his client was willing to enter a partial guilty plea.

I. A Plea -- But to What?

He wrote on his blog:

PFC Manning has offered to plead guilty to various offenses through a process known as "pleading by exceptions and substitutions."  To clarify, PFC Manning is not pleading guilty to the specifications as charged by the Government.  Rather, PFC Manning is attempting to accept responsibility for offenses that are encapsulated within, or are a subset of, the charged offenses.  The Court will consider whether this is a permissible plea.

He adds:

[T]he Government does not need to agree to PFC Manning's plea; the Court simply has to determine that the plea is legally permissible.

Bradley Manning has been charged with 22 counts and faces the prospect of court martial and imprisonment.  Mr. Manning is accused of leaking videos and tens of thousands of field logs from Afghanistan and Iraq.  He also is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, some of which were classified.

The leaks were released in scattershot fashion.  Most of the information proved relatively uninteresting, although Wikileaks tried to highlight a handful of cables and logs that it felt were incriminating.

Bradley Manning
PFC Bradley Manning is accused of masterminding the worst data breach in U.S. Military history. [Image Source: Facebook]

Some news outlets (namely Newsweek) have claimed that militant fundamentalist groups in Afghanistan used the leaked information in the field to hunt down and execute U.S. allies.  Of course, such claims are inherently hard to validate, as the militants could easily have just made up the story as an excuse to kill someone they already were targeting.

II. Manning, Assange Face Legal Minefield Ahead

The maximum penalty the charges against PFC Manning could theoretically carry would be the death penalty, although prosecutors have indicated they will not seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.

In interviews, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is accused of saying that those who allied themselves with U.S. forces are "traitors" and "deserve to die".  Mr. Assange calls the quotes attributed to him by David Leigh -- an editor at England's most prestigious newspaper, Guardian -- "lies" and accuses the world media and social networks of a vast conspiracy to villainize him.

Leak -- blood
Sources have claimed that Mr. Assange celebrated the fact that the leaks might cost the lives of U.S. allies.

Mr. Assange is currently holed up at the Ecuadorean London embassy, which is granting him temporary asylum while he fights extradition charges.  He's currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) who has sought to extradite him to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia.  It is believed that the DOJ may move to charge him under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 (see: 18 U.S.C. § 793), however such an approach could raise serious free speech concerns.  

Instead, Mr. Assange believes that U.S. prosecutors are pushing Mr. Manning to testify against him, directly linking him to the leaks so that he can instead be brought to trial on cybercrimes charges.  Regarding PFC Manning, Mr. Assange claims, "[They're trying] to break him, to force him to testify against WikiLeaks and me."

Mr. Assange claims to expose global wrongdoing, however his site appears to be primarily fixated on embarrassing the U.S., with approximately 95 percent of its leaked documents involving the U.S.  

Julian Assange
Julian Assange has accused the U.S. government and global media of a grand conspiracy. 
[Getty Images/AFP]

Wikileaks does not reveal its funding sources.  In a previous brief interview with Julian Assange, I asked him directly whether he could verify that his site is not funded by hostile nation states such as North Korea or Iran.  He refused to offer any such promise, instead accusing the media of conspiring to discredit his work and warning me that there "will be consequences" for the questions I was asking.

III. Substitutions are Pretty Standard Fare in U.S. Military Court

Returning to PFC Manning's plea, it's unknown, exactly what PFC Manning plans to substitute in the charges, and which charges he plans to accept (deny).  Past comments make it seem unlikely that PFC Manning would agree to implicate Mr. Assange, whom he expressed a fiery admiration for.  However, faced with the prospect of hard prison time anything is possible.

Typically substitutions are designed as a way of pleading guilty to a lesser offense. For example CNET points to a June ruling by the The U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, in which an airman accused of using cocaine and other narcotics agreed to substitute (plead guilty to) vicodin abuse (a Schedule III drug), but except (deny guilt) of Percocet use (a Schedule II drug).  The maneuver reduced his jail time, although the substituted offense still earned him a dishonorable discharge.
Substitutes and exceptions are fairly standard practice in military cases.
[Image Source: Unknown]

Such hybrid pleas are described in the U.S. Military's 2012 Manual for Courts-Martial (PDF), which says that defendants can plead "not guilty to an offense as charged, but guilty of a named lesser included offense" and "not guilty of the exceptions, but guilty of the substitutions."

Sources: David Coombs, CNET

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RE: He took an oath
By MechanicalTechie on 11/9/2012 1:18:22 AM , Rating: -1
Wow so much emotion do you want me to get your a tissue to clear those eyes?

Your last post is FULL of rabid assumptions so much that its hardly worth continuing this.. but I will give it one last try give you an alternative view.. other than the government propaganda that you ohhhhh so love to lap-up.

I totally agree that it takes courage, honour and integrity to be a serviceman or woman and defend your country... notice i used the word defend.. but using the military for political or economic gains.. i.e Saddam got WDM is totally bogus and shows a particular need for responsible and ethical people to highlight these to the broader community and is mandatory for accountability.

Don't let your nationalism cloud the reality that YOUR government doesn’t give a $hit about you or PFC Manning or your new best friend... if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time your pals in the CIA would have no problems launching a hellfire into your car and then call you collateral damage... but why would you care about this?? Ugghh... critical thinking is in short supply these days.

RE: He took an oath
By Bad-Karma on 11/9/2012 1:43:07 AM , Rating: 3
And you criticize me for a lack critical thinking?

Like I said, get back in your parents basement. The real world is apparently a bit more than you can handle....

RE: He took an oath
By MechanicalTechie on 11/9/12, Rating: 0
RE: He took an oath
By SPOOFE on 11/9/2012 1:03:45 PM , Rating: 4
But he took an oath.

Congratulations on having layovers in 20 different countries. I'm sure the two hours you spent in Italy gave you plenty of opportunity to learn everything about that country's culture, so now you're like super-master-expert guy on every facet of every foreign country, ever. I'm sure it made your penis grow by several inches, and maybe even granted you the ability to fly.

But back here in the real world, the word "oath" is an actual thing with an actual meaning, and anyone who would blather on about "critical thinking" or blow his own horn about how cosmopolitan his experiences are with a handful of moments in some country that isn't the US of A would probably want to understand what the word "oath" means, and not just definitionally.

RE: He took an oath
By morob05 on 11/9/12, Rating: 0
RE: He took an oath
By Solandri on 11/9/2012 8:17:06 PM , Rating: 4
You seem to have the view that the only way to properly serve your country is to take an oath to mindlessly carry out whatever orders you are given without employing any critical thinking of your own.

This is a common (mis)belief held by those who are anti-military. On one of my software projects for the military (we were making a strategic and tactical simulator/trainer), we got a crash course on the training and decision-making process officers are taught.

The last thing the military wants is people who blindly obey orders. They want people who are able to think on their feet, assess the changing situation and create and modify plans accordingly. The "don't think and do what you're told" mentality is what the Soviets used. The U.S. military decided the best way to defeat it was empowering the individual soldier to make his own decisions. There's a strong parallel to capitalism vs. centralized planning here.

Specifically, while the overall goal (e.g. advance the army forward to this position) is determined by HQ, commanders on the field determine the best way to accomplish that (e.g. we need to take this ridge, this town, and that valley). And in turn the individual units in the field determine the best way to do that (e.g. the platoon tasked with taking the ridge decides one squad sets up diversionary fire up the ridge here, while another squad heads up the ridge on the other side to flank the defenders). And in turn the individual soldiers determine the best way to do their job (e.g. where to dig in for the diversionary fire, or what route do we take up the ridge?).

Overall, the entire process struck me as a very sensible way to maximize the mental contribution of all members of the army, from the top general down to the individual soldier, when faced with a situation which might quickly be changing and where time was of the essence. The main premise was "no plan survives contact with the enemy," so you're best off giving individual units or soldiers just a goal plus the freedom to revise their part of the plan in the field instead of forcing them to follow orders. This way, if any soldier sees an opportunity or a problem which wasn't considered when making the original plan, he can quickly change what everyone underneath him is doing to take advantage of that opportunity or to avoid the problem. His job is to accomplish the goal he was given - how he does it is up to him.

Bradley Manning has served his country far better than anyone who turned a blind eye to any of these scandals!

If Manning had picked out specific scandals and cover-ups and released those to the public, I'd probably agree with you. But he didn't do that. He indiscriminately copied everything he had access to and released it. That isn't whistle-blowing, that's throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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