Civilian vs. military justice
The hearing starting today is part of a military justice system that mirrors civilian courts, but differs in important ways.
The process is called an Article 32 investigation, referring to a part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It resembles a civilian preliminary hearing, in which a judge decides if prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial. The presiding official is called the investigating officer, not a judge.
Military prosecutors represent the government, just as civilian prosecutors represent the state. Defendants are assigned military defense attorneys; those facing serious charges often retain civilian lawyers to lead their defense, as Pfc. Bradley Manning has.
The proceedings can last for days. Afterward, the investigating officer recommends how to proceed: a general court-martial, administrative punishment or dismissal of some or all of the charges.