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WikiLeaks soldier to take witness stand in own defense

Army Private First Class Bradley Manning is escorted in handcuffs as he leaves the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/
Army Private First Class Bradley Manning is escorted in handcuffs as he leaves the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/

By Medina Roshan

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The U.S. Army intelligence officer accused of slipping military and diplomatic secrets to WikiLeaks is expected to take the witness stand on Thursday, when he will read aloud from a 35-page statement defending himself in the espionage case.

Private First Class Bradley Manning was set to enter a formal plea to the 22 charges against him at a pre-trial hearing before a U.S. military judge.

In previous hearings, Manning has 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 has said he will plead not guilty to the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which is a violation of the federal Espionage Act, among others.

Manning, who has been jailed for over 1,000 days, could face life imprisonment if convicted of that top charge.

At a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, military judge Colonel Denise Lind said she would decide on Thursday how much Manning will be able to read aloud from a 35-page statement he has prepared.

Manning's lawyers have also filed a motion to request a trial by judge, leading to speculation that Manning might forego a trial by jury for his court martial, set to begin June 3.

The Office of the Judge Advocate General said on Wednesday it released 84 judicial orders and rulings in response to a Freedom of Information Act filed by several news agencies. To date, documents totaling 30,000 pages have been filed by the parties or issued by the military judge in the case.

Manning, 25, is accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including U.S. diplomatic cables and various military reports.

U.S. government secrets exposed by WikiLeaks beginning in 2010 staggered diplomats across the globe and outraged U.S. officials, who said damage to national security from the leaks endangered U.S. lives.

Lind has denied a request by the defense to dismiss all charges based on violations of Manning's right to a speedy trial.

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

Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010 and charged with downloading thousands of intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos while with the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade intelligence operation in Iraq and forwarding material to WikiLeaks.

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

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Dan Grebler)

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