The American soldier accused of providing more than 700,000 secret documents to the WikiLeaks website went on trial on Monday charged with the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is an intelligence analyst who faces a possible life sentence without parole if convicted for the 2010 leak that outraged the United States government.
In February, Manning admitted to passing sensitive information regarding military field reports and US diplomatic cables to the website before he was arrested in Iraq in May 2010.
The former intelligence analyst said he wanted to start a debate on the role of the US military and foreign policy including its “bloodlust” and disregard for human life in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning faces 21 counts, including the most serious one of aiding the enemy, as well as prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917.
The prosecution’s opening arguments directly tie to the most serious charge against Pte Manning, aiding the enemy. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove Pte Manning acted with intent “to aid the enemy” and knowingly gave such adversaries US intelligence information.
Manning’s court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Washington, is expected to run until at least late August. Prosecutors have said they expect to call more than 100 witnesses.
The courtroom, which can seat about 40 people, was crowded on Monday with media and onlookers, including Cornel West, a civil rights and political activist who has taught at Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.
“I’m here to have solidarity with my devoted brother Bradley Manning,” West said outside the courtroom. “I’m going to be here as often as I can. My spirit will be here. He is a courageous young brother.”
Over the weekend, thousands of protesters gathered outside the military camp outside of Washington and in other countries, to protest the negative portrayal of Manning’s case by American media and politicians.
Demonstrations were also held in more than a dozen other countries worldwide, including Canada, France, Germany and South Korea, to protest Manning’s trial in a military court.