FORT MEADE, Md. — A military judge on Monday ordered Army prosecutors to account for their actions amid accusations they withheld evidence from lawyers for an Army private charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
The ruling by Col. Denise Lind was a partial victory for Pfc. Bradley Manning's defense team, which claimed prosecutors have shirked their duty to share evidence including written assessments by various government agencies of the damage done by WikiLeaks' online publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and war logs. Manning is charged with aiding al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by sending the material to the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.
Defense lawyer David Coombs contends the damage assessments will reveal the leaks did little harm to national security and foreign relations. In court Monday, he all but accused Army Maj. Ashden Fein of lying about the prosecution's compliance with so-called discovery rules.
"Normally, these games are not played," Coombs said. "You hand over discovery and let the facts speak. You don't play hide the ball, and that's what the government's been doing."
Fein maintained that prosecutors are meeting their obligation as they continue to comb relevant documents for pertinent material and share it with the defense. He said the process is time-consuming because it involves requests for information from 63 government agencies.
"The defense is receiving the information they're entitled to receive," Fein said.
Nevertheless, Lind ordered prosecutors to draft a "due diligence statement," describing in detail their efforts to obtain and share such material in the more than two years since Manning was charged.
Coombs says the prosecution's failures have already affected Manning's right to a fair trial.
Lind also ordered prosecutors to turn over damage assessments compiled by the State Department and the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, among other documents, for her review.
Manning, a 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., faces possible life imprisonment if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the 22 charges against him. His trial is currently set to begin Sept. 21 but Lind has said it will likely be postponed to November or January.