Military judges can dismiss all charges if pretrial punishment is particularly egregious, but that rarely happens. The usual remedy is credit at sentencing for time served, said Lisa M. Windsor, a retired Army colonel and former Army judge advocate now in private practice in Washington.
"I think the likelihood of him getting any charges dropped is extremely remote," she said.
In a 2000 case, a military judge denied a motion to dismiss charges against Air Force airman Adrian Fulton, who was forced to perform a strip tease in front of guards and other prisoners, forced to participate in the abuse of other prisoners and threatened with rape and sodomy. Fulton also had to give his pregnant fiancee's telephone number to a guard who said he planned to have sex with the woman and tell her the airman had become a homosexual, according to court documents. Instead of dismissing the charges, the judge gave the airman 3-for-1 credit for 105 days.
If the military judge refuses to dismiss Manning's case, defense attorney David Coombs has requested 10-for-1 credit for 258 days of time served. That would knock a little more than seven years off Manning's sentence if he is convicted. He faces the possibility of life imprisonment if convicted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, and 162 years on the 21 other counts. His trial is set to begin Feb. 4.
Jeff Paterson, a leader of the Bradley Manning Support Network, said the credit would be meaningless if Manning gets a lengthy sentence.
"If that credit is meaningless, then that signals that you can actually torture any personnel or detainee without any actual consequences," Paterson said.
Manning has offered to take responsibility for the leak by pleading guilty to reduced charges. The military judge hasn't yet ruled on the offer and prosecutors have not said whether they would still pursue the charges against him.