Manning's Attorney Challenges Presiding Officer

Pfc. Bradley Manning had his first legal proceeding Friday since being arrested in 2010 on charges of leaking classified information on the Internet. The hearing was held at Fort Meade in Maryland, where Manning's attorney immediately challenged the impartiality of the officer conducting the proceeding. Lynn Neary talks to NPR's Carrie Johnson.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Private Bradley Manning appeared in public today for the first time since being taken into custody 18 months ago. He's accused of sharing hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables that later appeared on WikiLeaks. The 23-year-old soldier, who had been stationed in Baghdad, was brought before a military hearing officer today at Fort Meade in Maryland. The attorney for the soldier immediately sought to remove the presiding officer.

NPR's Carrie Johnson was there. She joins us now.

Hi, Carrie. Thanks for being with us.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: My pleasure, thank you.

NEARY: So, there's been a lot of speculation over the last 18 months about Manning's condition. Can you tell us, how did he look?

JOHNSON: He looks good. He's wearing a green camouflage uniform, shirt and pants, which is in essence the Army duty uniform. He's very slight, that's what most people are remarking on. He hardly looks like a man who wanted to launch a revolution. Instead he's about 5 feet two inches tall, very thin and has black framed Army-issued glasses. He seems to be engaged in the proceedings. He's answering yes and no questions and taking notes.

NEARY: So can you tell us a little bit more about this proceeding? It's not a trial. It's kind of preliminary hearing. Explain what it is exactly.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Sure, Lynn. It's kind of like a grand jury proceeding would be in an ordinary court. There's a person, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, who is called the investigating officer. He's going to be hearing testimony from witnesses for the military prosecutors, and witnesses who may or may not speak on Bradley Manning's behalf. The defense in this proceeding, which could last for several days, will have a chance to cross-examine the government's witnesses and present some of its own evidence, as well.

And at the end of the proceeding, the officer in charge will go back and deliberate and he's ultimately going to issue a recommendation in writing to a convening authority - that's sort of like a commanding general - about whether a court martial should proceed and on which charges. Manning now faces about 22 criminal charges.

NEARY: So what was the basis for the defense's objections to this officer who is in this role?

JOHNSON: Well, Bradley Manning's civilian defense lawyer, David Coombs, really came out of the gate fighting this morning. Almost the first words out of his mouth amounted to an argument that this presiding officer could not be fair and impartial because this presiding officer happens to be an Army Reservist and his day job is working at the Justice Department. He says - Manning's lawyer says that because this person works at the Justice Department and the Justice Department is investigating WikiLeaks, to whom Manning is accused of leaking all these cables, this guy just can't be fair.

NEARY: So, when will there be a decision on the defense's objections?

JOHNSON: The officer has come into the courtroom today and declared he does not believe he is biased. He believes he can continue hearing what's called this Article 32 proceeding, and making a fair and impartial decision and recommendation and giving that to the commanding general.

So, what's happening at this point is that Bradley Manning's defense lawyers are going to try to appeal that ruling and seek a stay of this Article 32 hearing.

NEARY: Well, thanks so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

NEARY: NPR's Carrie Johnson.

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