Hearing for US soldier in WikiLeaks centers on prison treatment

FORT MEADE, Maryland Sun Dec 2, 2012 8:56am IST

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted in handcuffs as he leaves the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana/Files

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted in handcuffs as he leaves the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland June 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Luis Magana/Files

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FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - A pre-trial hearing for U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of masterminding a massive leak of classified material to the WikiLeaks website, focused on Saturday on a 2011 incident when he broke down and cried in a military brig.

The hearing is to determine whether Manning should face a court-martial on suspicion of leaking thousands of classified documents, including military reports and diplomatic cables.

Manning's lawyers have sought to have the case against him dismissed, arguing that his treatment after arriving at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, in July 2010 was unduly harsh.

Saturday's proceedings, on the fifth day of the hearing, focused on the events of January 18, 2011, when Manning broke down and began crying after falling while guards were removing his shackles in an exercise room.

Defense attorneys allege that Manning became especially distraught that day because guards were bullying him. Manning himself testified earlier that his guards seemed angry on the morning the incident occurred, making him nervous.

One of Manning's guards at the time, former Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jonathan Cline, acknowledged in his testimony that military personnel at Quantico had been irritated by a pro-Manning protest a day before the incident in the exercise room. The protest had snarled traffic around Quantico.

"They were annoyed by it," Cline said. "It would kind of close down parts of the base and it would kind of hinder them or interrupt the way they would travel to get home or to do other things."

Manning faces up to life in prison if convicted of charges he played a role in the leaking of secrets by WikiLeaks, which stunned governments around the world by publishing intelligence documents and diplomatic cables, mostly in 2010.

Prosecutors have alleged that Manning, without authorization while on intelligence duty, disclosed hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, military reports and video of a military helicopter attack in Iraq in which two Reuters journalists were killed.

WikiLeaks has never confirmed Manning was the source of any documents it released.

Manning's lawyers are working with the court on the language of a proposed plea involving less serious charges. A prison term of at least 16 years is under discussion, one of his attorneys said, but until a plea is formally entered and accepted, the length of any prison term is uncertain.

(Reporting By Tom Brown; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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