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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: Legality of trying Assange
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 11/9/2012 4:25:27 PM , Rating: 2
Assange is Australian though and we do have treaties and agreements with their government.


RE: Legality of trying Assange
By ClownPuncher on 11/9/2012 6:15:53 PM , Rating: 2
That is correct. We still have nothing to try him for, unless he was involved in more than what we know.


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