Bin Laden raid member can be witness in Manning court-martial

Patrick Semansky/AP - Judge rules Bin Laden raid member can testify as part of prosecution's effort to link al-Qaeda leader to material leaked by Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, pictured.

A military judge ruled Wednesday that a member of the team that raided Osama bin Laden’s compound would be allowed to testify at the court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, part of the prosecution’s attempt to link the slain al-Qaeda leader to material leaked by the soldier.

Manning, who pleaded guilty to some charges last month, is scheduled to face a court-martial in June for leaking 700,000 documents and other materials to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

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Prosecutors, who have alleged that Manning’s actions damaged national security, say digital media found at bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan show that the terrorist leader received access to some of the WikiLeaks material through an associate.

Manning’s defense team has argued that evidence obtained from the raid was not relevant to the charges against Manning, which include aiding the enemy. But on Wednesday, Army Col. Denise Lind disagreed, ruling that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the “enemy received” the material.

The witness, identified as “John Doe” and as a “DoD operator,” will testify in a closed session at an undisclosed location, Lind said, and will appear in “light disguise.”

It is presumed that the witness is a member of the Navy SEAL Team 6 that raided bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Only one member of the raid team has been publicly identified — Matt Bissonette, who was named shortly after publishing an account of the raid under a pseudonym.

The prosecution is hoping to call more than 20 witnesses in closed session, including officials from the State Department, Defense Department, FBI and CIA. In addition to the member of the bin Laden raid team, the names of three other witnesses are being withheld. The four are also expected to testify about the material discovered at bin Laden’s compound.

Last month, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 charges and provided a courtroom at Fort Meade with a detailed account of his decision to divulge the trove of diplomatic cables and battlefield incident reports to WikiLeaks. The former intelligence analyst said that he was seeking to spark a debate about what he described as the nation’s obsession with “killing and capturing people.”

But the prosecution is seeking to prove 22 additional charges against Manning, including aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Lind said Wednesday that the prosecution would be required to prove that Manning had “reason to believe” the information he transmitted to WikiLeaks “could be used to the injury of the U.S. or the advantage of any foreign nation.” That ruling could force the prosecution to call members of the government’s classification agencies to testify that Manning would have been expected to know that the information in the documents he released could cause injury to the United States.

That ruling was one of two issued in writing Wednesday — the first time Lind had delivered decisions other than from the bench in a case that has been marked by unusually limited disclosure.

Manning’s court-martial is scheduled to begin June 3 at Fort Meade and is expected to last 12 weeks.

 
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