By Larry Shaughnessy reporting from Ft. Meade
Update: The investigating officer has denied defense request to recuse himself from overseeing the proceedings.
After a recess of more than two hours on the first day of PFC Bradley Manning’s first crucial court hearing since he was accused of leaking thousands upon thousands of classified Defense and State Department documents, Manning’s attorney said “this case rises on falls on whether information was properly classified.” (our ongoing story on the proceedings can be found here)
David Coombs point is that if Manning did leak any documents, they are documents that should not have been classified.
It’s a point that none other than former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to support during a news conference shortly after Manning’s arrest.
"Problems identified and the issues raised in these documents relating to the war in Afghanistan have been well known in and out of government for some time," Gates said in 2010. "These documents represent a mountain of raw data and individual impressions, most several years old, devoid of context or analysis. They do not represent official positions or policy. And they do not, in my view, fundamentally call into question the efficacy of our current strategy in Afghanistan."
But Gates never said that the documents should not be classified.
And others have taken a more serious view of the impact of their release.
At that same news conference, Adm. Michael Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the leakers “"They might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family. Disagree with the war all you want, Mullen said. “But don't put those who willingly go into harm's way even further in harm's way just to satisfy your need to make a point."
The hearing is in it’s second recess as the investigating officer in the case, Army Reserve Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, considers a defense motion asking that he recuse himself. The recess is expected to last until after one this afternoon. So far more than three hours after the hearing began, no witnesses have testified.
And Coombs told Col. Almanza that if he does not step aside from the case, he will ask that the hearing be stayed pending an appeal of the matter.
If Amanza were to recuse himself or grant a stay it could mean the entire hearing, which was expected to last until at least Friday before Christmas if not into the new year, would grind to a halt.