A U.S. Army soldier accused of leaking thousands of classified documents appeared for a pre-trial hearing Friday, with his defense attorney alleging bias and calling for the withdrawal of the presiding officer.
The hearing, at Fort Meade outside Washington, was to determine if Private First Class Bradley Manning should face trial in a military court. The proceedings adjourned for the day and are to resume Saturday.
Attorney David Coombs argued Friday that the hearing officer should step down because he works as a Justice Department prosecutor in civilian life. The Justice Department is conducting a separate investigation into the founder of the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, Julian Assange, who allegedly received the classified documents from Manning.
Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, is accused of illegally downloading hundreds of thousands of sensitive files while serving in Iraq between November 2009 and May 2010. The defense Friday questioned what harm the release of such documents would cause.
Manning, who has not entered a plea, allegedly shared the documents with the WikiLeaks website, which began publishing them in July 2010.
The leaked diplomatic cables and military reports roiled the international community, often providing blunt and unflattering U.S. views of world leaders’ private and public lives.
Also Friday, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Assange could appeal his extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sex crimes.
Assange denies the allegations of sexual assault and says they are politically motivated because WikiLeaks released classified U.S. documents.
Assange will remain free on bail in Britain until his Supreme Court hearing, on February 1.
U.S. officials say WikiLeaks’ publication of the stolen documents put lives in danger, threatened national security and undermined American efforts to work with other countries.
Manning faces several charges, including “aiding the enemy,” which is a capital offense. Prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty. Manning, who turns 24 on Saturday, could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.