CRIME

Bradley Manning hearing continues Saturday, prosecution to lay out charges

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FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — An Army appeals court has rejected a defense effort to remove the presiding officer in the military hearing for the soldier blamed for the largest leak of classified material in American history.

Protesters flooded the area around Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning. (Photo: Mike Conneen)

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals has said the case against Army Pfc. Bradley Manning will go forward with Lt. Col. Paul Almanza as the presiding officer.

The defense wanted him to step aside because of alleged bias. Almanza is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and Justice Department prosecutor. He rejected the request Friday and refused to suspend the hearing pending an appeal.

A military legal expert told reporters Saturday that that the case will go forward with Almanza following the decision Friday night by the appeals court to deny the defense request.

Prosecutors asked for presiding officer to step aside

The prosecution is laying out its charges against the young soldier blamed for the largest leak of classified material in American history in a case that may hinge on whether the U.S. government overzealously stamped "secret" on material posing no national security risk.

The long-awaited military court case against Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the accused source for the WikiLeaks website's trove of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets, is moving ahead. The defense had requested that the presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, step aside because of alleged bias. Almanza, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and Justice Department prosecutor, rejected the request and refused to suspend the hearing pending an appeal.

Manning, a one-time intelligence analyst stationed in Baghdad, is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive items including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

The Obama administration says the released information has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America's relations with other governments.

First public appearance in 19 months

Friday was Manning's first appearance in public after 19 months in detention. He appeared slight but serious in his Army camouflage fatigues and dark-rimmed glasses, taking notes during the proceedings and answering straightforwardly when called upon by Almanza.

Manning, a native of Crescent, Okla., who turns 24 on Saturday, is relying on a defense that will argue much of the classified information posed no risk.

In addition to claims of partiality, his lawyer, David Coombs, argued that Almanza wrongly denied the defense's request to call as witnesses the officials who marked as secret the material WikiLeaks later published. Instead, the officer accepted unsworn statements from those people, Coombs said.

Friday's tangling, however, centered primarily on Almanza's Justice Department job. "I don't believe I'm biased," Almanza said, explaining that his government work concerns child exploitation and obscenity. He said he hasn't talked about WikiLeaks or Manning with anyone in the department or FBI

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