FORT MEADE, Md. — After seven days of testimony and the submission of more than 300,000 pages of documents, a key question remains unanswered in the case against Army Pfc. Bradley Manning:
How exactly did his leak of hundreds of thousands of secret documents, logs and at least one video, which he passed to WikiLeaks, directly harm U.S. national security?
It's a near-certainty that Manning, whose pretrial Article 32 hearing concluded Thursday, will next face a court-martial on at least some of the 22 charges against him, but experts say that it's unclear whether the government will be able to prove its most serious charge against the former Army intelligence analyst — that he aided the enemy. A conviction on that charge could send Manning, 24, to prison for life.
Prosecutors at the hearing only had to show a "reasonable belief" that Manning committed a crime; if the case proceeds to a court-martial, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction.
Manning's case may hinge on the question of what constitutes harming national security — which the government charges that Manning did when he entered a classified computer, downloaded thousands of files, burned them onto a CD and provided them to WikiLeaks over his personal computer while deployed as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.
Nearly two years after Manning's arrest — and more than a year after WikiLeaks published State Department cables, military logs and a video of soldiers shooting at civilians who were initially thought to be insurgents in Baghdad — the answer is unclear. At worst, supporters say, he embarrassed his country.
The investigating officer, who serves as both a judge and jury in the military system, is expected to recommend by Jan. 16 whether Manning should face a court martial.