WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning challenged U.S. prosecutors Wednesday to prove he intended to “aid the enemy” by turning over documents to the whistleblower website, arguing that spilling secrets could not be treated as a plot to help al-Qaida.
Manning’s lawyer insisted at a pre-trial hearing that the government’s case implied any soldier could be prosecuted for helping al-Qaida if they leaked sensitive information to an Internet site, including prominent newspapers.
If allowed to stand, the prosecution’s definition of the offense would violate free speech rights and constitutional protections, said David Coombs, civilian counsel for Manning.
The most serious charge facing the 24-year-old U.S. Army private alleges he was knowingly “aiding the enemy” when he passed a massive cache of classified data to WikiLeaks. The charge can carry the death sentence, and prosecutors are seeking life in prison in this case.
To be convicted on the charge, Coombs said the government has “to show general evil intent” on Manning’s part and not merely that “he should have known better,” which the lawyer said would amount to a lesser charge of gross negligence.