A military judge on Tuesday ordered Army prosecutors to provide several assessments that government agencies have done of the potential damage caused by the online publication of reams of government secrets allegedly leaked by a low-level Army intelligence analyst.
Col. Denise Lind said during a pretrial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning that she will review the documents to determine whether they contain information that must be given to his defense lawyers. She told prosecutors to give her the damage assessments by May 18.
Lind's ruling came during a sometimes heated courtroom debate over defense claims that prosecutors haven't met their obligation to provide Manning's lawyers with evidence they uncover during the discovery process that could aid the defense.
Lind said she would rule today on another defense motion to dismiss all 22 charges against Manning.
The Oklahoma native, 24, is being court-martialed for allegedly downloading and sending to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents, diplomatic cables and video clips. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of aiding al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by causing the information to be published.
No trial date has been set, and Manning hasn't entered a plea to the charges.
The pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Md., between Baltimore and Washington, is scheduled to run through Thursday. It mainly concerns the production of evidence both sides will use to shape their trial strategies.
Manning's attorneys are seeking damage assessments -- done by the CIA and the departments of Justice, State and Defense -- to back up Manning's claim that the leaked documents didn't hurt U.S. interests.
Lead defense attorney David Coombs said prosecutors' failure to quickly obtain and share the documents was "disheartening" and contrary to military judicial tradition.
"We have open discovery. We don't hide the ball," he said. "No gamesmanship, no holding things back."
Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein countered that prosecutors have gone beyond the letter of the law in trying to meet their discovery obligations. He said those efforts have been slowed by the laborious process of obtaining civilian agency approvals and searching the documents for relevant material.
He said the defense request, particularly regarding State Department information, was vague and overly broad.
"If the defense is asking for anything the department has, well, that sounds more like a fishing expedition," he said.
Fein also said court approval of defense demands for certain sensitive information could lead other defendants to "graymail" the government. Graymail is a threat to reveal state secrets in order to manipulate or derail legal proceedings.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington that the publication of diplomatic cables damaged U.S. relations with some countries. "Our view of the entire WikiLeaks incident has not changed at all in terms of the negative effects," she said.
Nuland said there hasn't been much impact on embassies' reporting back to Washington. "But that doesn't change the fact that there was enormous turbulence in many of our bilateral relationships when this happened, and that there have been impacts on individuals," she said.
The defense also asked for transcripts of a federal grand jury investigation in the Eastern District of Virginia into whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be prosecuted for the disclosures Manning allegedly fostered. Although the grand jury probe is a civilian proceeding, Coombs argued that the departments of Defense and Justice are closely aligned, if not working jointly, on investigating WikiLeaks.
Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier who never should have been deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material.
He was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad when he allegedly copied classified material from government computers and used personal computers to send it to WikiLeaks with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's help. The material WikiLeaks published included cockpit video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed a number of civilians, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The government says the civilian deaths were accidental.
Manning has been in pretrial confinement since he was charged in May 2010, and his treatment at a Marine Corps base caused his support base to swell. The Quantico, Va., brig commander, citing safety and security concerns, kept Manning confined 23 hours a day in a single-bed cell. For several days in March 2011, he was forced to sleep naked, purportedly for injury prevention, before he was issued a suicide-prevention smock.
Manning's supporters have raised funds to place as many as 21 posters in the Washington Metro subway system this week portraying him as a whistle-blower, patriot and hero.