Court-martial ongoing for Army service member in WikiLeaks case

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is the 25-year-old Crescent, Okla. soldier accused of harming national security by leaking a massive amount of U.S. classified material for online publication on the WikiLeaks website. As of this June 2013 writing, his court-martial - the military judicial proceeding that tries service members accused of crimes - is ongoing at Fort Meade in Maryland, having started on June 4.

Manning, who was a junior intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army, has reportedly admitted sending thousands of documents and other content to WikiLeaks, which describes itself as a media organization that publishes "original source materials" as "evidence of the truth."

According to the Asbury Park Press, Manning stated in his pretrial proceedings that his goal was to "spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general." The Associated Press says that he wanted to "expose wrongdoing."

The material is said in the press to reveal information about civilian deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, details about Guantanamo Bay detainees and the content of controversial diplomatic cables.

In his court-martial, Manning is accused of many offenses, including aiding the enemy for which he could receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole if he is convicted. Some of the other charges reportedly include theft, computer fraud and espionage.

What is a court-martial?

The court-martial system is the military's own judicial system that tries and punishes military service members for committing crimes in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or UCMJ. Three levels of courts-martial exist, depending on the severity of the military offense charged and of the potential punishments:

  • Summary: hears minor offenses
  • Special: compares to a state court that tries civilians for misdemeanors
  • General: compares to a state court that tries civilians for felonies

Courts-martial proceedings try many of the same crimes that civilian courts do such as murder, rape, drug charges and theft, and also other crimes unique to courts-martial like military-benefit fraud or desertion. Court-martial convictions may also be appealed to higher-level courts.

Mount a vigorous defense

Any service member in any branch of the U.S. military who believes that he or she is under investigation for a potential court-martial or who has already been court-martialed should discuss the legal options with an experienced military law attorney to understand what he or she faces. The criminal defense lawyer can mount an investigation on behalf of the service member and plan a comprehensive and vigorous court-martial defense.