WASHINGTON - A U.S. Army officer is recommending that Pfc. Bradley E. Manning face a general court-martial for the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history -- the WikiLeaks case.
After an Article 32 hearing under the military legal system, the investigating officer concluded that the "charges and specifications are in the proper form and that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged," according to a statement by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
The recommendation will now be forwarded up the chain of command for a final determination. Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington will make the ultimate decision on whether Manning will stand trial. The military did not provide a timeline for those actions.
Manning faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, alleging that he gave more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Prosecutors say WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collaborated with Manning.
Defense lawyers say Manning, 24, was clearly a troubled young soldier who suffered from psychological problems stemming from gender confusion. They say the Army never should have sent him to Iraq or given him access to classified material.
If convicted of all charges, Manning would face a maximum punishment of confinement for life; reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade, E-1; total forfeiture of all pay and allowances; and a dishonorable discharge.
The investigating officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, presided over Manning's seven-day preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 investigation, in December at Fort Meade, Md. During that hearing, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed "Collateral Murder."
Manning's lawyers countered that others had access to Manning's workplace computers. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.
Manning's apparent disregard for security rules during stateside training and his increasingly violent outbursts after deployment were red flags that should have prevented him from having access to classified material, the defense claims. Manning's lawyers also contend that military computer security was lax; and that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.
Jeff Paterson, a founding member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, said the recommendation was what he expected.
This article includes reporting from msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press.
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