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Monday, June 3, 2013

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning Goes On Trial

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Tuesday, May 21, 2013, before a pretrial military hearing. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Tuesday, May 21, 2013, before a pretrial military hearing. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

More than three years ago, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq and charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.

Since then, he admitted to sending troves of material to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and pleaded guilty to charges that would send him to prison for up to 20 years. The U.S. military and the Obama administration weren’t satisfied, though, and pursued a charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.

The trial on that most serious charge and 20 other offenses begins Monday for the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst from Oklahoma. It’s the most high-profile case for an administration that has come under criticism for its crackdown on leakers. The six prosecutions since Obama took office is more than in all other presidencies combined.

Protesters march during a rally in support of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning outside of Fort Meade, Md., Saturday, June 1, 2013. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Protesters march during a rally in support of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning outside of Fort Meade, Md., Saturday, June 1, 2013. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Manning chose to have his court-martial heard by a judge instead of a jury. It is expected to run all summer.

In February, Manning told military judge Army Col. Denise Lind he leaked the material to expose the American military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for human life in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he did not believe the information would harm the U.S. and he wanted to start a debate on the role of the military and foreign policy.

The judge accepted his guilty plea to reduced charges for about half of the alleged offenses, but prosecutors did not did not and moved forward with a court-martial on charges including violations of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Manning’s supporters hail him as a whistleblowing hero and a political prisoner. Others view him as a traitor.

About 20 Manning supporters demonstrated Monday morning in the rain outside the visitor gate at Fort Meade. They waved signs reading “free Bradley Manning” and “protect the truth” while chanting “What do want? Free Bradley. When do we want it? Now.”

U.S. officials have said the more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables sent to WikiLeaks endangered lives and national security.

The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010 documented complaints of Iraqi detainee abuses; a U.S. tally of civilian deaths in Iraq; and America’s weak support for the government of Tunisia – a disclosure Manning supporters said encouraged the popular uprising that ousted the Tunisian president in 2011 and helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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