The first day of the final pre-trial hearing in the case against WikiLeaks whistle-blowerPFC Bradley Manning has begun.
Manning has returned to Fort Meade, where he has pleaded guilty to reduced charges and faces up to 20 years in prison. Military prosecutors are aiming to convict him of the greater offense of “aiding the enemy” which carries a maximum life sentence.
Manning, 25, has said he leaked the documents because he thought Americans had a right to know “the true cost of war”.
During the pretrial hearing, the court will discuss how to handle classified material that will be used as evidence in the trial so that the court can remain open to the press and public. Options could include giving unclassified summaries of classified material and using code words to refer to classified information.
The army private, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, shared around 700,000 secret documents with WikiLeaks, including the controversial video known as “Collateral Murder” that shows the killing of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists.
Speaking to the court in February, Manning said “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information…this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
Protests were held outside Fort Meade by supporters of Manning.
Since Manning’s arrest there has been much controversy regarding his treatment during his incarceration. An organisation supporting the soldier claims he was kept in solitary confinement for 10 months, stating: “During this time, Bradley was denied meaningful exercise, social interaction, sunlight and on a number of occasion he was forced to stay completely naked”. In 2011 over half a million people signed a petition calling on President Obama to end the “isolation and torture of Bradley Manning”.
Manning’s case has also attracted the support of several high-profile personalities including film-maker Michael Moore, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky and most recently fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who wore a Bradley Manning badge saying “truth” to the recent MET ball.
The main trial is set to begin on June 3 and is expected to run for a month.