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US to hand over emails in WikiLeaks soldier case

18 october 2012, 16:52
A US judge ordered prosecutors Wednesday to hand over hundreds of emails by officers overseeing the detention of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning, who has alleged he suffered mistreatment at a Marine Corps brig, AFP reports.

Lawyers for Manning, a US Army private accused of passing a trove of secret government documents to the WikiLeaks website, had asked for the emails to bolster their argument that the soldier suffered illegal treatment when he was held at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia starting in 2010.

At a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, Judge Denise Lind said more than 600 emails withheld by prosecutors should be handed over to the defense, though she did not explain the reason behind her decision.

The emails discuss the military's plans to respond to queries from reporters about Manning's detention, preparing for protests, changes to Manning's list of visitors and other details, according to the judge.

Wednesday's decision means the defense will have access to a total of about 1,300 emails, including those the judge ordered released. Judge Lind said that only 12 of about 600-700 emails did not have to be handed over.

The defense had argued the emails were potentially pertinent for their motion contending Manning was subjected to unlawful pre-trial punishment, but prosecutors had said the emails were irrelevant.

The ruling, read out by the judge during the hearing, marked the latest tug-of-war between prosecutors and defense lawyers over the release of official correspondence, reports, or other information related to Manning's case.

The judge has previously pushed military prosecutors to hand over other documents in the case, saying they had to ensure Manning's lawyers had access to information that could help with their client's defense.

Manning, who attended Wednesday's hearing wearing a blue dress uniform, is scheduled to go on trial on February 4 over an array of charges, including that he "aided the enemy" by handing classified military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks.

He faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Manning's treatment at Quantico sparked protests from his supporters, as well as human rights groups.

During his stay there, he was held under maximum security conditions in a solitary cell, where he was stripped naked and made to wear only a suicide-proof smock to bed at night.

The 24-year-old soldier was later transferred to an army prison at Fort Leavenworth, a more modern, medium-security facility where he is subjected to less strict conditions.

Wednesday's hearing also saw defense lawyers and prosecutors argue over a book by a Washington Post reporter that quotes from a classified video of a US Apache helicopter attack in Iraq, a video that Manning is accused of leaking.

The cockpit video grabbed headlines when it was released in 2010 by WikiLeaks, which titled the footage "Collateral Murder." The video captures radio chatter from the Apache chopper along with other helicopters in a 2007 assault, as they open fire with heavy guns on a group of men on a Baghdad street.

The Americans suspected the men were insurgents but the attack killed a journalist and driver from the Reuters news agency, prompting an international outcry.

Lead defense lawyer David Coombs told the court the book by David Finkel contains extensive quotes and details from the video, which he said can only mean the author had access to the cockpit video.

Manning's lawyers hope to prove that their client cannot be charged with leaking the video if the contents were already revealed in a book published in 2009, before the video was outed by WikiLeaks.

"The only way for the author to get that information would be to have got that video," Coombs said. "He describes what the crew is seeing and saying."

The government argued that some quotes in the book were not totally accurate, and that it was unclear if the author obtained the video.

"In our opinion it (the book's account) was not verbatim," said Captain James Morrow, a member of the prosecution team.

As a result, it was not possible to assume that Finkel got his hands on the video, he added.

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