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Judge refuses to combine charges in WikiLeaks case

Associated Press Modified: April 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm •  Published: April 26, 2012

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — A military judge rejected defense motions Thursday to consolidate some of the 22 charges against an Army private accused in the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history.

Col. Denise Lind said she would rule late in the afternoon on a defense motion to dismiss the most serious charge against Pfc. Bradley Manning — aiding the enemy — which carries a maximum life sentence.

Lind opened Thursday's session of pretrial proceedings by rejecting the defense's argument that the government had piled on duplicative charges to increase Manning's potential punishment. For example, the defense had argued that Manning's alleged theft of 380,000 Iraq war logs from a military database and his alleged transmission of those files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks should have been charged as one offense, not two.

Lind said a theft can occur whether or not the stolen material is transmitted. She said the 10-year penalty for each of those offenses wasn't unreasonable given the "voluminous government records" involved. And she said that if the government had truly wanted to pile on charges, it could have alleged numerous aiding-the-enemy violations.

Lind said the defense could raise the consolidation motion again for sentencing purposes if Manning is convicted.

She denied another defense motion seeking to dismiss a count on the grounds that it was improperly charged. That count alleges that Manning wrongfully and wantonly caused intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing it would be accessible to the enemy.

Lind also heard arguments on a government motion to bar any discussion at trial of whether the leaked material harmed U.S. interests. Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein argued that the government must prove only that Manning leaked the material knowing it could cause harm, regardless of whether it did.

The motion appeared to be aimed at blocking the defense's attempts to obtain classified reports compiled by the departments of Defense, State and Justice assessing the damage done by the WikiLeaks disclosures. Defense attorney David Coombs said the reports probably say the leaks did little or no damage; otherwise, the prosecution would be eager to discuss them.

Fein said that since the government doesn't have to prove damage, any courtroom discussion of damage assessments would waste the court's time.

"Just because a damage assessment might say damage did occur or didn't occur, it's completely irrelevant" to the charges, Fein said.

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