By Carol Cratty
A U.S. Army soldier accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks came one step closer to a court-martial on Thursday. An investigating officer assigned to Pfc. Bradley Manning's case recommended he face a just such a military court for trial, the Army announced.
After an Article 32 hearing for Manning - which is the military's rough equivalent of a grand jury proceeding - the investigating officer concluded "reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged." The recommendation now goes Col. Carl Coffman, the "special court-martial convening authority." If he approves, the recommendation would then go to the commander of the military district of Washington for a final decision on Manning's case.
Manning, 24, is accused of committing the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history. The charges against him include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defense information, and theft of public property or records.
If Manning is tried and convicted on all charges, it is recommended he face a maximum of life in prison. Aiding the enemy is capital offense, but the investigating officer endorsed the view of military prosecutors not to seek the death penalty.
During the Article 32 proceedings in December, prosecutors presented evidence that Manning allegedly communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a series of Internet chats about uploading 700 Guantanamo Bay detainee interrogation reports.
Prosecutors charge Manning put software on secure computers to allow him to download classified material and burn it to a compact disc. Manning was assigned as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and had a top-secret clearance. He worked in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as SCIF.
At the Article 32 hearing, Manning's defense lawyer, David Coombs, focused most of his attention on two issues - lack of security at the SCIF and the Army's lack of response to Manning's emotional and behavior problems.
"We're disappointed but by no means surprised," said Jeff Paterson, a lead organizer for the Bradley Manning Support Network after hearing about the recommendation for a court martial. Manning's supporters continue to say the military has not presented evidence about how the alleged leaks of documents to WikiLeaks harmed national security.
CNN's Larry Shaughnessy and Charley Keyes contributed to this report.