Bradley Manning, the US Army private facing life in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, deferred making a plea at his arraignment at Fort Meade near Baltimore on Thursday.
Manning, 24, faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, for the biggest leak of classified information in US history, The Washington Post reported. He allegedly gave more than 700,000 documents and video clips to WikiLeaks.
At his preliminary hearing in December, prosecutors produced evidence that Manning transferred nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack to WikiLeaks, according to the AP.
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Defense lawyers have argued that Manning was troubled and shouldn't have had access to classified materials, the Associated Press reported.
Thursday's arraignment hearing was Manning's first opportunity to state his case personally, as well as to decide in what forum he would like to be tried, according to BBC News.
Manning has the option to be tried before a military judge alone; a panel jury made up of officers; or a member panel made up of one-third of enlisted soldiers, ABC News reported. The default selection would be a panel with enlisted soldiers, a legal military expert told ABC, adding that deferring the forum selection and plea is often done for tactical reasons.
Manning's plea can be entered anytime before the start of the trial, ABC News reported.
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The trial date is left to the military judge to determine, but the defense requested a June start, saying that waiting any longer would violate Manning’s “due process rights,” according to ABC News.
“As of today, Private Manning has been in pre-trial confinement for 635 days,” David Coombs, Manning's lawyer, said Thursday in court. If the government goes ahead with its August 3 start date, Manning would have spent “over 800 days before trial begins in pre-trial confinement,” Coombs added.
If Manning is convicted, he faces life in prison, as well as a reduction in rank to the lowest enlisted pay grade, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge, ABC News reported.