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WikiLeaks soldier pleads to lesser charges

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By Medina Roshan

Fort Mead - The U.S. Army private accused of providing diplomatic cables and other classified material to the WikiLeaks website pleaded not guilty to aiding the enemy, but pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges that he misused classified information in the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history.

Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, was expected to take the witness stand before military judge Colonel Denise Lind in the hearing prior to his court martial, which is set to begin on June 3.

He pleaded not guilty to the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, through his attorney. Manning, who has been jailed at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia for more than 1,000 days, could face life imprisonment if convicted of that charge.

He faces a total of 22 charges.

Manning, an Army intelligence officer, was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq and charged with downloading thousands of intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos and forwarding them to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks began exposing the U.S. government secrets in the same year, stunning diplomats across the globe and outraging U.S. officials who said damage to national security from the leaks endangered U.S. lives.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.

Manning had offered to plead guilty to various lesser charges in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including the unauthorized possession and willful distribution of information accessed in the Combined Information Data Networks, a military database, for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is prepared to take the witness stand to read aloud from a 35-page statement defending himself in the espionage case, but only after Lind rules on how much of it he will be allowed to read.

Under a ruling last month by Lind, Manning would have any sentence reduced by 112 days to compensate for the markedly harsh treatment he received during his confinement. While at Quantico, Manning was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day with guards checking on him every few minutes. - Reuters

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