LEADALL: Key WikiLeaks people in court in US, Britain
By Deutsche Presse-Agentur Dec 16, 2011, 23:27 GMT
The two key WikiLeaks people - founder Julian Assange and his alleged main source of information, US Army Private Bradley Manning - were in court on opposite sides of the Atlantic on Friday.
Manning faces serious charges of aiding the enemy in the leaking of classified US documents, and could face trial and possible life in prison if hearings in a military court in Fort Meade, Maryland show there is enough evidence for court martial.
Assange, meanwhile, has not yet faced direct legal charges for his publishing of the leaked documents. He is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offences, and on Friday, he won the right in a London court to have Britain's Supreme Court hear his appeal against extradition to Sweden. The court, the highest in Britain, will hear his appeal in February.
Since his arrest in Britain last year, Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden out of fear he could be subsequently extradited to the United States in relation to WikiLeaks' publication of tens of thousands of classified diplomatic cables.
For now, all that US military prosecutors have in hand is Manning, who was arrested in 2010 and was held at times in solitary confinement and forced to sleep naked. Manning is to spend his 24th birthday on Saturday in the Fort Meade courtroom, where an investigating official will continue to hear evidence through the weekend.
Hundreds of thousands of documents have been published by WikiLeaks, with top international media given first access to the documents that caused diplomatic embarrassment and security concerns for the United States. The releases included video footage of a 2007 helicopter gunship attack in Baghdad that killed 12 people including a news agency cameraman, and diplomatic straight talk with candid assessments of world leaders.
WikiLeaks is a quintessentially modern media organization, as much a reflection of the digital age as YouTube, Facebook and the online volunteer encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The Scandinavian-based organization was founded in 2006, with co-founder Assange, an Australian journalist and online activist, serving as editor-in chief.
President Barack Obama and senior US politicians have been outraged at the release of documents, including secret US military logs about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which they say endangered lives and were harmful to US interests.
Some of the debate over legal prosecution involves freedom-of-the-press issues. There has been no indication that US prosecutors will move against The New York Times and other media that quoted the WikiLeaks material and used it to investigate stories about diplomatic clashes and alleged war crimes.
The prosecution of Manning began with Friday's hearing, his first day in court since his arrest in May 2010.
Manning has become a cause celebre for activists. Fifty protesters stood vigil outside the military courthouse, saying he had practiced freedom of speech about war crimes he had witnessed.
'I think he should be given a medal,' said Lieutenant Dan Choi, known as an activist against the military's former policy banning openly gay soldiers from serving openly. 'He's the only person in his entire chain of command who stood up for the truth and tried to report when he saw something wrong.'
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators also joined the protests after travelling on a bus from New York, and more were expected to arrive on Saturday.
Protesters also claimed that Manning could not get a fair trial because Obama had already declared him guilty, saying at a fundraiser last year: 'He broke the law.'
The first day of the hearing was spent considering objections by Manning's civilian defence lawyer David Coombs, who failed to get the investigating officer ousted for conflict of interest.
Coombs also raised questions about the need for secrecy of the classified documents. Had he been able to call certain witnesses, he said he would have asked them: 'Why is this stuff classified? Why is it going to cause harm?'
The investigating officer Paul Almanza considered the challenge to his impartiality through several court recesses, then declined to recuse himself, saying: 'I do not believe a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances would be led to the belief that my impartiality could reasonably be questioned.'
In the London case with WikiLeaks boss Assange, if he loses a full appeal in February, his last remaining option will be to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The Swedish authorities want him to answer accusations of raping one woman and 'sexually molesting and coercing' another in Stockholm in August last year.
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