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US leak case highlights Wikileaks trial

11 June 2013, 13:21

Fort Meade — US Army soldier Bradley Manning's court-martial for giving hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents to the WikiLeaks website has entered its second week in a fresh spotlight cast by the case of another low-level intelligence employee who claims to be exposing wrongdoing.

Edward Snowden, like Manning, could find himself taken to court by the US government after he unmasked himself on Sunday as the person who exposed the nation's secret phone and internet surveillance programmes to reporters.

Legal experts closely following both cases said they were shocked to find out young, low-ranking people had such access to powerful government secrets. Manning was 22 years old when he turned over the military and diplomatic cables about three years ago. Snowden is 29.

"In that respect, these cases suggest we should be much more careful about who is given security clearances," said David JR Frakt, a former military prosecutor and defence lawyer.

Legal experts saw differences between the two cases, namely that Manning's secret-spilling was more random, while Snowden appeared more selective.

"I'm not awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom here," Eugene R Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, said of Snowden. "I'm just saying you could say it is something more akin to educating the American public about sensitive surveillance issues that have some level of First Amendment concern attached to them."

Facing life

Fidell said Snowden's revelation probably won't influence the military judge in Manning's case, but "it ratchets up the entire subject in the public eye". Fidell said it could spur outrage about government secrecy in general, but it also could underscore the dangers of leaks — and that, he said, won't help Manning.

Manning is charged under federal espionage and computer fraud laws. The most serious charge against him is aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.

Manning's attorney said he was young and naive but a good-intentioned soldier who wanted to make the world a better place by exposing the way the US military was conducting itself.

Snowden said his motives were similar but told The Guardian newspaper of London: "I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest."

Manning never publicly acknowledged his actions until more than two years after his arrest. He was seized after an informant turned him in. Snowden was hiding out in Hong Kong, perhaps eventually hoping for asylum somewhere.

On Monday, Manning's defense team won an intense battle over the admissibility of a piece of evidence supporting his claim that he leaked secrets to expose wrongdoing by the US military and State Department.

The evidence was WikiLeaks' "Most Wanted Leaks of 2009". Army criminal investigator Mark Mander testified he found several versions of the list, including one prefaced by an explanation that the records were sought by "journalists, activists, historians, lawyers, police or human rights investigators".

That's the version the defense sought to admit; prosecutors offered a version without the preface. They objected strenuously to the defense's version but the military judge said both versions were equally relevant.

- AP


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