WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US military brought new charges against the soldier suspected of passing a massive trove of secret government documents to WikiLeaks, accusing him of the serious offense of "aiding the enemy."
US Army authorities unveiled 22 additional charges against Private Bradley Manning, including the accusation of "aiding the enemy," which carries a potential death sentence.
|AFP file - Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gather outside Belmarsh Magistrates' Court, in south-east London.|
But military prosecutors do not plan to seek the death penalty if Manning is convicted and instead the 23-year-old soldier would face possible life in prison, the army said in a statement.
"The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes" that Manning is accused of committing, said Captain John Haberland, spokesman for the military district of Washington.
Manning, a former low-ranking intelligence analyst in Iraq, is accused of knowingly giving "intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means," authorities said in charge sheets.
The US military had already announced 12 charges against Manning in July, accusing him of violating federal criminal and military law.
The Pentagon has yet to explicitly link him to the WikiLeaks website but the charge sheets say Manning is being accused of illegally downloading hundreds of thousands of government documents and caused them to be "wantonly" published on the Internet.
Manning knew that "intelligence published on the Internet is accessible to the enemy," according to the charge sheets.
WikiLeaks infuriated US officials and shook up the diplomatic world by publishing a stream of sensitive US military files and diplomatic cables over the past several months. President Barack Obama's aides have accused Assange of putting lives at risk.
The documents have included an array of embarrassing revelations and raised doubts about the US government's ability to safeguard secret documents and confidential communications.
Manning has long been suspected as the source of the WikiLeaks document dump but the website's founder has denied knowing the army private, describing him as a political prisoner.
On its Twitter account, WikiLeaks said the "aiding the enemy" charge "suggests WikiLeaks will be defined as 'the enemy.' A serious abuse."
And in another tweet, the website called the charge "a vindictive attack on Manning for exercising his right to silence" and that there was no evidence for such an accusation.
Manning's lawyer, David Combs, issued a statement saying the defense attorneys had expected more charges to be filed.
But he said that military law dictates that an investigating officer "will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial."
The latest charges, following a seven-month investigation, included "wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing that it will be accessed by the enemy," theft of public records, transmitting defense information, fraud related to computers, the army statement said.
A trial date has yet to be set for Manning and the army said Wednesday that proceedings have been delayed since July 12, 2010 pending the outcome of an inquiry into the soldier's "mental capacity" requested by defense lawyers.
Manning remained detained at a brig at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington, and was informed of the charges earlier Wednesday, the army said.
Manning's supporters and lawyers have complained about the conditions of his solitary confinement, saying the "maximum security" regime is inhumane and unnecessary.
But US officers say the charges against Manning mean that he poses a potential threat to national security and must be held under strict conditions under military law.
Assange faces allegations of rape in Sweden and a British judge has ruled he should be extradited, but the WikiLeaks mastermind has vowed to wage a legal battle.
The former computer hacker says the claims against him by two women he met during a seminar organized by WikiLeaks in August last year are politically motivated because of his work.