(CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - While officials and legal experts say it would be difficult for the U.S. Justice Department to bring a successful criminal prosecution against Julian Assange, founder of the watchdog website Wikileaks, that is not the case for the sources that provide the classified information that fuels his site.
Army private Bradley E. Manning, who is suspected of leaking thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, was charged Wednesday with aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty.
The Army filed 22 new charges against 23-year-old Pvt. 1st Class Manning, including causing intelligence information to be published on the Internet. The charges involve the suspected distribution by the military analyst of more than 250,000 confidential State department cables, as well as a raft of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. Thousands of these documents have been posted on Wikileaks.
Although aiding the enemy is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Army prosecutors have told the Manning defense team that they will not recommend the death penalty.
The Army has not ruled out charging others that may have aided Manning in releasing the information. Army leaders have admitted there had to be supervisory lapses in order for Manning to have leaked the information.
Manning was charged in July with mishandling and leaking classified information, as well as putting national security at risk in connection with the release of information about a military attack on unarmed Iraqi men.
The new charges, according to the Army, more accurately reflect Manning's crimes, including using unauthorized software on government computers to extract classified information, illegally downloading it and transmitting the data for public release by what the Army called "the enemy."
The charges follow 7 months of Army investigations.
According to the Army, if Manning is convicted of all of the charges he could face life in prison, plus reduction in pay grade to the lowest enlisted pay, a dishonorable discharge and loss of all pay and allowances.
Manning has a lot of supporters who are outraged.
"It's beyond ironic that leaked U.S. State Department cables have contributed to revolution and revolt in dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa, yet an American may be executed, or at best face life in prison, for being the primary whistleblower," said Jeff Patterson of Courage to Resist, an Okland, Calif.-based group that is raising funds for Manning's defense.
Trial proceedings against Manning have been on hold since July, pending the results of a medical inquiry into Manning's mental capacity and responsibility.
Manning is being held at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. under maximum custody and prevention-of-injury watch.