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Manning hearing provides clues to direction of possible court martial

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
December 23, 2011 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)

Fort Meade, Maryland (CNN) -- Pfc. Bradley Manning won't know for weeks if he will face a court martial for his alleged role in the largest intelligence leak in American history. But if he does go to trial, and experts think it's likely he will, his just-completed Article 32 hearing provides a lot of clues about what to expect.

An Article 32 is the military justice system's rough equivalent of a grand jury hearing, only it's conducted in the open and the defense is allowed to cross-examine witnesses and even present their own witnesses and evidence.

Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, faces 22 charges in connection to the leak of nearly 750,000 U.S. military and State Department documents. Most of them ended up on the WikiLeaks website and much of the week-long hearing focused on those documents and Manning's connection to WikiLeaks.

"This appears to have been the first time any evidence has been publicly presented that directly links Pfc. Manning to Wikileak's founder Julian Assange," said Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security matters. "Is this proceeding a prelude to a future prosecution of Mr. Assange?"

Perhaps the most revealing evidence presented by the government is a series of internet chats that the prosecution said were between Manning and Assange.

For example Thursday, Capt. Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor cited chat logs of an alleged online discussion between Manning and Assange regarding the upload 700 Guantanamo Bay detainee interrogation reports.

Manning, Fein said, wrote that the upload had been going for about six hours and was about 36% complete. Assange asked how long until the upload would be complete; Manning estimated about 11-12 more hours.

Assange later confirmed the upload was complete.

WikiLeaks published 700 Guantanamo reports earlier this year.

Manning's attorneys did not present much evidence to suggest that Manning had not leaked the documents. But legal observers said they didn't have to; in fact it may have been to their advantage not to.

David Coombs, Manning's lead defense counsel, seemed for focus on two major issues -- the Army's lack of response to Manning's emotional and behavior problems as well lack of security in the SCIF where Manning worked in Iraq.

SCIF, pronounced skiff, stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. It is an office where people with security clearance, can access secure military computers. As an intelligence analyst with a Top Secret clearance, Manning's job was to use the SCIF to gather information about the threat from Shia militias in Iraq for commanders in the field.

Among the charges Manning faces include putting software on the secure computers that would allow him to download classified information and burn it to a compact disk.

Manning allegedly pretended to listen to music by Lady Gaga while burning the CD.

During testimony, witnesses told defense attorneys that listening to music in that SCIF was common among all the soldiers who worked there.

Capt. Barclay Keay, one of only two defense witnesses called by Coombs testified by phone about his time with Manning's unit.

Keay said he often saw soldiers listening to music in the SCIF. At first he thought it was not proper, but he was told it was "an accepted practice" that was "tolerated because it helped soldiers be more productive."

Another witness said rewritable CDs were lying all around the SCIF.

Because of that, Coombs argued that the charges related to Manning violating computer security policies for the SCIF should be dropped. Coombs said "it was a lawless unit" when it came to computer security.

Long before Manning's hearing, there were numerous media reports that he was gay and was estranged from his father.

But during the hearing it was revealed that Manning believed he was suffered from Gender Identity Disorder. Witnesses testified that he had created an alter ego online named Breanna Manning. In closing arguments, Coombs read a letter Manning wrote to one of his supervisors, Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, prior to his arrest where he talked about "my problem."

"Everyone is concerned about me," Manning wrote. "Everyone is afraid of me and I'm sorry."

"I joined the military hoping the problem would go away and it did for awhile."

Eventually, Coombs alleged, the gender identity problem lead to violent outbursts.

But in spite of the outbursts, Adkins and others in Manning's unit didn't remove him from duty in the SCIF or cut off his access to classified materials.

That didn't happen until he punched a fellow soldier in the face. Jihrleah Showman, a former Army specialist and at one point Manning's team leader, testified that after he hit her, she pinned him to the floor and said "I'm tired of this, I'm tired of this."

Showman was one of the few in the Army who thought Manning shouldn't have security clearance and shouldn't be deployed to Iraq. But Showman didn't have the authority to do anything other than warn her supervisors, who did not follow her recommendations.

Manning's attorney maintains that is one reason why the Army holds much of the responsibility for the leaks.

But Zaid has doubts about that legal tactic. Zaid told CNN via an email that "much irrelevant, peripheral information was publicly pandered, particularly by Pfc. Manning's defense team, to paint a portrait of Pfc. Manning that has little to nothing to do with any potential criminal liability he might face."

Whether Manning's legal team continues to follow this defense track or present a different defense won't be known until a court martial trial, if there is one.

The first hint we might get about that should come on January 16, when the Investigating Officer in the case is due to submit his recommendation to the Special Court Martial Convening Authority.

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