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Judge to rule on dismissing most serious charge in U.S. WikiLeaks trial

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (L) is escorted out after a day of testimony at his court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryland, July 8, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (L) is escorted out after a day of testimony at his court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryland, July 8, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

(Reuters) - A military judge trying the soldier accused of the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history heard arguments on Monday over two defense motions that could result in the most serious charge against him - aiding the enemy - being dropped.

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is charged with disclosing more than 700,000 classified files, combat videos and State Department cables to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, could face life in prison without parole if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of 21 charges he faces.

Defense lawyer David Coombs argued before Judge Colonel Denise Lind that Manning was guilty of negligence but not of "general evil intent," or of having knowledge it would get to the enemy.

"His intent (was) to get information out to spark reform, spark debate," Coombs told the court.

The court-martial prosecution countered by highlighting Manning's training as an intelligence officer as evidence that he would have knowledge that the leaked information would be accessed by terrorists.

"He was relied upon to brief (U.S. officials) on the enemy," prosecution lawyer Captain Angel Overgaard said. "He knew exactly what he was doing in disclosing the charged information."

The second motion concerned charges related to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Manning has already plead guilty to the lesser offense of leaking classified information, including State Department cables.

The defense is asking that the judge dismiss the greater offense, whether he knowingly exceeded authorized access, punishable by a 10-year prison sentence if found guilty.

The defense sought to draw a distinction between access and use restrictions, acknowledging that Manning may have violated user restrictions - not a breach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The prosecution countered by arguing he exceeded authorized access.

Lind will rule on the motions on Thursday.

Over the course of the trial, defense lawyers have sought to show that the short, bespectacled Manning was naive but well-intentioned in seeking to inform Americans about the reality of the wars in Afghanistanand Iraq.

The judge also heard arguments on the prosecution's request for rebuttal and accepted the return of several witnesses for testimony starting on Thursday.

Among the witnesses recalled by the prosecution will be Army Specialist Kyra Marshall. The prosecution will attempt to establish that Manning wanted to gain notoriety rather than inform Americans about the course of the conflicts.

Marshall has testified that Manning told her: "I would be shocked if you were not telling your kids about me in 10 to 15 years from now."

The defense rested on July 10. The trial is slated to run through August 23.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Xavier Briand)

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