Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been denied a request for full legal access to the US military court where Private Bradley Manning faces court martial.
By Raf Sanchez, Fort Meade, Maryland – 17 Dec 2011
Lawyers for Mr Assange argued that their client had a “unique” interest in Private Manning’s prosecution at Fort Meade, Maryland for allegedly passing military secrets to the website, because the American government hopes to use the young soldier’s trial to build a case for prosecuting the Australian whistle-blower.
They asked to be allowed to attend the hearings “in their entirety”, including sections where classified information and national security secrets are discussed, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.
But the request was denied on Friday evening by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Pte Manning, 24, is accused of stealing a huge cache of files from a secret military network in Iraq and passing them to WikiLeaks. He was told at the military equivalent of a pre-trial hearing on Friday that he faces a long list of charges including “aiding the enemy”, an offence that can lead to life imprisonment without parole.
Mr Assange is the public face of WikiLeaks, which outraged the US government by publishing more than 250,000 classified cables written by American diplomats.
Speaking outside the hearing, his Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who is attending the court martial, said it was clear “that pressure is being put on Private Manning to implicate Mr Assange in the Department of Justice investigation. It is clear that factual matters raised here have potential ramifications and maybe related to the ongoing grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and Mr Assange.”
Miss Robinson, a London-based media lawyer, has been at Mr Assange’s side since his arrest on a European arrest warrant in December 2010 – just weeks after WikiLeaks beginning publishing the leaked diplomatics cables.
Crucially for her client, Private Manning could make a plea deal with the American government at any time where he could agree to help prosecutors try to build a case against Mr Assange in return for a lesser sentence.
The pair are not thought to have ever met but in a webchat between Private Manning and an American computer hacker, the young soldier allegedly describes his plan to hand stolen files to a “crazy white haired Aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long.”
Mr Assange has never been arrested in connection with the leaked documents and strenuously denies violating any espionage laws, claiming that his work is no different from that of an investigative journalist. He said that procedures at WikiLeaks prevent him from even knowing who was the source of the documents was.
His lawyers’ application to the court stated: “Although the US government has never successfully prosecuted anyone accused of soliciting or receiving allegedly classified information, federal prosecutors have reportedly convened a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia to investigate whether Mr Assange conspired with Army Private Bradley Manning to violate the Espionage Act of 1917.”
It went on to suggest that Private Manning’s Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a pretrial appearance, could be suspended to allow the court time to consider Mr Assange’s request.
Mr Assange, who is living at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk as he fights extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault, will continue to monitor public court proceedings through Miss Robinson.