HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Military law experts say the death penalty isn't off the table for the Army private suspected of giving classified material to WikiLeaks, despite prosecutors' promise not to recommend it.
Special Section: WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks: Bradley Manning faces 22 new charges
Three experts said Wednesday that the commander of the Military District of Washington could still refer for trial as a capital offense the charge that Pfc. Bradley Manning aided the enemy.
In that event, a court-martial jury of at least 12 members could vote for execution if Manning were convicted.
Military lawyer Dwight Sullivan, who blogs about military justice at CAAFlog.com, says it is unusual, but not unheard of, for a commander to ignore such a recommendation from prosecutors.
The Army filed 22 new charges against Manning, including causing intelligence information to be published on the Internet. The charges don't specify which documents, but 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 the documents have been published on the WikiLeaks website.
Although aiding the enemy is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Army prosecutors have notified the Manning defense team that it will not recommend the death penalty to the two-star general who is in charge of proceeding with legal action.
The Army has not ruled out charging others in the case, pending the results of an ongoing review. Army leaders have suggested that there may have been supervisory lapses that allowed the breach to occur.
The release of the State Department cables was denounced by U.S. officials, saying it put countless lives as risk, revealing the identities of people working secretly with the U.S. It also sent shudders through the diplomatic community, as the cables revealed often embarrassing descriptions and assessments of foreign leaders, potentially jeopardizing U.S. relations with its allies.
While thousands of the cables have been released, the bulk of those downloaded have not been made public.
Manning was charged in July with mishandling and leaking classified data and putting national security at risk in connection with the release of a military video of an attack on unarmed men in Iraq.
Army officials said the new charges accuse Manning of using unauthorized software on government computers to extract classified information, illegally download it and transmit the data for public release by what the Army termed "the enemy."
The charges follow seven months of Army investigation.
"The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Pvt. 1st Class Manning is accused of committing," said Capt. John Haberland, a legal spokesman for the Military District of Washington.
In a written statement detailing the new charges, the Army said that if Manning were convicted of all charges he would face life in prison, plus reduction in rank to the lowest enlisted pay grade, a dishonorable discharge and loss of all pay and allowances.
Manning's civilian attorney, David Coombs, said any charges that Manning may face at trial will be determined by an Article 32 investigation, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury proceeding, possibly beginning in late May or early June.
Manning's supporters were 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 Paterson of Courage to Resist, an Oakland, 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.
The 23-year-old Crescent, Okla., native is being held in maximum custody and prevention-of-injury watch at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va.