LEAD: Manning's lawyer requests maximum penalty of 30 years in jail
By Silvia Ayuso Dec 22, 2011, 17:51 GMT
Fort Meade, Maryland - US army soldier Bradley Manning's lawyer asked Thursday that the main high treason charges against him be dropped, so that if the case goes to trial, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.
The prosecution declined to request the death penalty but demands life in prison for Manning, 24, who is accused of releasing reams of classified US diplomatic data to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
The hearings that are set to end Thursday in Fort Meade, Maryland, near Washington, will determine if there is enough evidence for a court martial.
A verdict is expected from judge Paul Almanza by January 16. However, a legal expert who knows the case noted that Almanza could request an extension.
Starting in late 2010 and lasting for several months, thousands of documents were published by WikiLeaks in the international media, causing diplomatic embarrassment and alleged security concerns for the United States. They included video footage of a 2007 helicopter gunship attack in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including a news agency cameraman.
In all, Manning is charged with 22 violations of military law, including one charge of aiding the enemy. Theoretically, a guilty verdict in that case could mean the death penalty, though army prosecutors have said they do not intend to pursue that course, instead seeking a life sentence if the case goes to trial.
During his closing arguments in Fort Meade, Manning's chief counsel David Coombs said that the government 'overreacted and overcharged' his client in the case which, for all the hype, has had no major consequences. A milder penalty would be enough, he said.
'The sky has not fallen and the sky will not fall,' Coombs stressed, with reference to the consequences of the WikiLeaks scandal.
'Everybody looking at this information knows the simple fact: It hasn't caused harm,' he said.
'Thirty years is more than enough punishment,' Coombs stressed.
He noted that to analyze this case one has to look not only at the results, but also at the reasons why Manning allegedly leaked the documents.
Coombs again told judge Almanza that Manning was mentally unstable because of gender identity problems that should have kept him away from army service. He again complained that the army knew this condition and did nothing to prevent Manning from active service.
'Manning was struggling with a gender identity disorder. During deployment he created an identity, Breanna Manning,' Coombs recalled.
'He struggled in isolation, but he did not struggle in silence.'
The army knew this, Coombs complained, and did nothing about it. To prove that, he read out the letter that Manning had sent his immediate supervisor to inform him of his problems and their effect on his work.
'I'm not sure what to do about it,' Manning wrote in the letter that Coombs read out in court. 'It's currently affecting my career. It's causing me pain and confusion and turns even the most basic things very difficult.'
'It's always on my mind, making it difficult to concentrate at work, to sleep. It makes my entire life feel like a bad dream,' the soldier wrote.
The addressee, Paul Adkins, declined this week to testify before the court.
Coombs noted that Adkins wrote three memorandums since 2009 in which he recommended that Manning get immediate psychological therapy. Adkins did not, however, move Manning away from a work that granted him access to classified documents.
'The military's lack of response is a slap in the face of justice,' Coombs argued.
The prosecution devoted its concluding remarks to going through the main evidence that directly implicates Manning in the leaks, including the statements of witnesses who have testified before the court over recent days.
The evidence against the soldier is 'overwhelming,' according to prosecution lawyer Ashden Fein.
'He used training to defy our trust indiscriminately,' Fein said of Manning.
The soldier, Fein noted, took documents from US military and diplomatic networks in a 'constant, deliberate and methodical' fashion.