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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.
Substitute
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 inperfectdarkness on 11/9/2012 2:41:36 AM , Rating: 3
Ok, first of all, I'm amazed that any of your posts on this topic are rated higher than -1.

Second of all, people like you--who clearly feel that governments should not keep any secrets of any kind--are more than welcome to run off to a third world country, overthrow it, and creat your own utopian paradise where there are no secrets. The rest of us in the REAL world know that Sun Tzu knew better well over a milennia ago.

Third, having a moral compass is a pre-requisite for military service--but that does not mean you can ignore chain of command, legal & lawful orders, etc. Non-disclosure agreements--required for access to classified documents--is a LEGAL AND LAWFUL ORDER.

Fourth, releasing classified information--regardless of the recipient--is treason. (I'm not referring to the process of declassification). Under the UCMJ, treason is punishable by death. http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/mcm/bl...

Fifth, it's discouraging that servicemembers are laying their lives on the line to defend imbeciles like you who not only lack a single clue as to how/what the military does...but also lauds traitors as "heroes".


RE: He took an oath
By superstition on 11/9/2012 2:54:36 AM , Rating: 2
Here is some substance on this subject, to counter the bloviating:

more high-level classified disclosures from an administration fixated on punishing whistleblowers
http://www.salon.com/2012/07/20/high_v_low_level_l...
quote:
High-level Obama administration leakers disclose classified information at will, without the slightest fear of punishment . One can pick up a newspaper or listen to a television news broadcast almost every day and find examples of leaks from Obama’s high-level officials far more serious than those allegedly committed by the Bradley Mannings and Thomas Drakes of the world.

Quoting classified American intelligence reports on Syria to The New York Times is a more serious leak than any of those serving as the basis for the multiple espionage prosecutions brought by the Obama DOJ. The difference is that this is a “senior official” rather than a low-level one, and it’s not done with the intent to expose high-level corruption, deceit or illegality. Therefore, like all the other high-level crimes shielded from accountability by the Obama administration, it will be protected. Therein lies the clear lesson about the real purpose of the Obama war on whistleblowers.

The intellectual cowardice of Bradley Manning’s critics
http://www.salon.com/2011/12/24/the_intellectual_c...
quote:
Ellsberg — dumped 7,000 pages of Top Secret documents: the highest known level of classification; by contrast, not a single page of what Manning is alleged to have leaked was Top Secret , but rather all bore a much lower-level secrecy designation.

To the extent one wants to distinguish the two leaks, Ellsberg’s was the far more serious breach of secrecy. The U.S. Government’s own pre-leak assessment of the sensitivities of these documents proves that. How can someone — in the name of government secrecy and national security — praise the release of thousands of pages of Top Secret documents while vehemently condemning the release of documents bearing a much lower secrecy classification?

Nor is there any way to distinguish the substance of the two leaks. While the Pentagon Papers exposed the lies from American leaders regarding the Vietnam War, the WikiLeaks disclosures have done exactly the same with regard to the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, and a whole litany of other critical events.


RE: He took an oath
By inperfectdarkness on 11/9/2012 3:03:11 AM , Rating: 3
So we're the ones "bloviating" and your rebuttle is some liberal hogwash? That's rich.

I don't suppose it ever occurs to you that sometimes our government DELIBERATELY "leaks" certain types of classified information? Like, for example, information which strengthens the US position on an issue while exposing the vapor of a beligerant state's rhetoric?

For that matter, what exactly did Manning offer the world of redeeming value? What was the "corruption" he exposed? Did he have a legitimate issue to expose?

The truth is, he just did it because he went full retard. He had no justice to fight for, no truth to speak to. His random, mostly BS documents were just spilled because he wanted to do it. I'm sorry, but that's NEVER a good excuse--I don't care who you are or where you work. Judging him innocent on this is sending a clear message that the US doesn't care which Joe Blow spills state secrets--it's all fair game.


RE: He took an oath
By superstition on 11/9/2012 12:31:54 PM , Rating: 1
Your screeching insubstantial posts wouldn't be so bad if you didn't feel it necessary to respond to everything.

quote:
I don't suppose it ever occurs to you that sometimes our government DELIBERATELY "leaks" certain types of classified information? Like, for example, information which strengthens the US position on an issue while exposing the vapor of a beligerant state's rhetoric?


I notice that you utterly fail to address the issue of Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Intellectual cowardice is too kind. Extreme laziness is more apt.


RE: He took an oath
By SPOOFE on 11/9/2012 1:06:30 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
if you didn't feel it necessary to respond to everything.


quote:
I notice that you utterly fail to address the issue of


So first you criticize him for "respond[ing] to everything", but then you criticize him for NOT responding to something?

Would a little internal consistency kill ya?


RE: He took an oath
By superstition on 11/9/2012 3:15:28 PM , Rating: 2
Oh please. Either of you might make the effort to adequately reconcile Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers with your views on Manning.

Still waiting...


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