An Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking thousands of classified U.S. government files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks should be court-martialed on charges related to the incident, an investigating officer recommended on Thursday.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, after reviewing evidence from a weeklong hearing in December, told the General Court Martial Convening Authority that Manning should be prosecuted on all 22 charges presented in the hearing, including aiding the enemy and wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet.
The investigating officer concluded that the charges and specifications are in the proper form and that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged, the U.S. Army Military District of Washington said in a press release.
Aiding the enemy is an offense that could bring the death penalty but the prosecution has said it intends to seek a maximum of life in prison for Manning.
The statement said that if convicted of all charges, Manning could also face a reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonourable discharge.
Manning is accused of downloading more than 700,000 classified or confidential files from the military's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, while serving in the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Iraq.
Those files are thought to be the source of documents that appeared on WikiLeaks, which promotes the leaking of government and corporate information.
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, has accused the government of over-charging his client and urged the investigating officer to give prosecutors a reality check.
Legal experts expected the case to be recommended for a court martial and that it would include the charge of aiding the enemy because of the low threshold of evidence required to proceed to a court martial and the incident's connection to national security.
I'm not surprised. It sounded like the evidence that was presented to the investigating officer provided the minimal amount of evidence to go forward, said Lisa Schenck, professor of military justice at George Washington and former amilitary appellate judge.
Prosecutors have portrayed Manning as a trained and trusted analyst who knowingly committed criminal acts when he allegedly passed the documents to WikiLeaks.
They sought to link Manning to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, introducing logs of web chats that an investigator said appeared to show conversations in which the two discuss sending government documents.
Manning's lawyers have cast him as an emotionally troubled young man whose behavioural problems should have prompted superiors to revoke his access to classified information.
Witnesses said Manning sent an email to his sergeant expressing concern that confusion over his gender identity was seriously hurting his life, work and ability to think. Manning had created a female alter-ego online, Breanna Manning, according to testimony at the hearing.
(Reporting By Lily Kuo; Editing by Eric Walsh)