In court with Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning file picture Image copyright AP
Image caption There has been wide criticism of the conditions of Manning's confinement

FORT MEADE MARYLAND - US Army analyst Bradley Manning has appeared in court on the first day of a hearing to decide whether he will face trial over allegations he leaked huge amounts of secret information to Wikileaks.

It is the first time since his arrest that Private Bradley Manning has been seen in public.

He's flanked on one side by his civilian lawyer, and on the other by two military lawyers. He's small, bespectacled and sits quietly listening. He briskly answers a few routine questions about whether he understands his rights and is happy with his lawyer: "Yes, sir," he replies.

This hearing, which could go on for a week, is to establish whether there is enough of a case to go to a full court-martial.

But curiously the case opened not with the accused, but with a cross-examination of the investigating officer, Lt Col Paul Almanza.

Private Manning's defence council, David Coombs, has said the softly-spoken reservist should withdraw from the case, saying "the investigating officer is biased".

The lawyer's argument is that the officer is a former military judge and now works for the civilian government as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice, which has its own case against Pte Manning.

Lt Col Almanza accepted all the prosecution's witnesses, but turned down all but two of the 38 witnesses for the defence. Pte Manning's lawyer says that means he can't prove his case, and that his client's actions caused few real problems.

"Where's the damage? Where's the harm?" he asked, turning around in the courtroom, arms held wide in a gesture familiar from many a courtroom drama.

The presiding officer has ordered a recess, which he says could last a while. I doubt whether the defence lawyer really has high hopes of getting a more favourable investigating officer, one who will dismiss the case, deeming it not worthy of a court-martial.

Instead, it seems he is making his case to the world that this is not a fair trial.

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