Bradley Manning looks for an escape hatch

With all of the focus on the recent election it’s been a while since we checked in on our continuing coverage of accused traitor Bradley Manning, currently still cooling his heels in military custody. His trial is quickly approaching, and his defense attorney has apparently come up with a new strategy. Maybe he’ll plead guilty to some of the charges.

Bradley Manning, the US soldier who is facing life in prison for allegedly having leaked hundreds of thousands of state secrets to WikiLeaks, has indicated publicly for the first time that he accepts responsibility for handing some information to the whistleblower website.

Manning’s defence lawyer, David Coombs, told a pre-trial hearing ahead of his court martial that the soldier wanted to offer a guilty plea for some offences contained within the US government’s case against him. This is the first time the intelligence analyst has given any public indication that he accepts that he played a part in the breach of confidential US material.

While details of which specific charges Coombs would have Manning cop to remain vague, the general tone is fairly clear. He’ll plead guilty to some of the “technicality” type charges dealing with improper handling of electronic data and such, while taking charges of “aiding the enemy” off the table. That would, if successful, remove the option of life in custody without parole – at best – from the equation.

We’re not talking about some court in San Francisco here. This is the Army. I would hope that they will see this for precisely what it is. Manning is asking for the equivalent of mowing down a group of nuns on a sidewalk in front of a Church and being charged with driving with a busted tail light. It seems rather laughable on its face, as has much of his inept defense efforts to date. Further, as Andrew Longstreth points out, writing for Reuters, this strategy comes with some risks of its own.

But there are dangers in Manning’s strategy. Even if the judge accepts the deal, there is no guarantee that Manning will be credited for pleading guilty to certain offenses in this late stage of the case.

By pleading guilty to certain facts, Manning also gives up any right to contest them at trial, which could make it easier for the government to prove its most serious charges.

“That’s the cost-benefit analysis you have to do,” said Philip Cave, a military law expert in private practice.

To be clear, the alleged traitor (do we really have to say “alleged” after this?) has not entered a guilty plea. This motion is more of a, “what would happen if we said…” type of request for the court. From my own observations of military legal process over the years, I wouldn’t expect it to receive much of a sympathetic ear.

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