Hearing for Private Accused of Passing Secrets to Wikileaks

To determine whether case will proceed to court martial

The 23-year-old soldier blamed for the largest leak of classified material in American history appeared at Fort Meade Friday for the first time in public at the start of a court-martial hearing that may hinge on whether the U.S. government overzealously stamped "secret" on material posing no national security risk.

But the long-delayed military court case against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the accused source for the WikiLeaks website's trove of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets, got sidetracked by legal wrangling as soon as it began.

The presiding officer, Lt. Colonel Paul Almanza, rejected a defense request that he step aside because of alleged bias. He then refused to suspend the hearing while an Army appellate process weighed an appeal.

NBC News reported Almanza is an Army reservist who in civilian life works as an investigator for the Justice Department. The defense argued that because the Justice Department has also been pursuing possible espionage charges against Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, the investigating officer may be prejudiced in the case.

Almanza said in court that he was not biased, but two recesses were taken on Friday to discuss the matter.

Manning has been held in military detention since May 2010. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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