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Private Manning keeps mum at Wikileaks plea hearing

Alleged classified info leaker buys more time

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WikiLeaks suspect Private Bradley Manning declined to enter a plea on Thursday at the start of his court martial over charges that he had handed over reams of US Army classified data to the website, AP reported from the court.

The 24-year-old was formally charged with 22 counts in the court appearance, including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet and theft of public property. The aiding the enemy charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the other counts carry a combined maximum of more than 150 years in jail.

In a court martial, the defendant can put off entering a plea until the start of the trial, which can give the defence more time to finalise its strategy.

Military judge Colonel Denise Lind didn't set a trial date but scheduled another court hearing for 15 to 16 March.

Manning allegedly downloaded and handed over more than 700,000 documents and video clips to WikiLeaks, the largest leak of classified information in US history.

The soldier's defence lawyers are claiming that he was emotionally troubled and shouldn't have been given access to classified data or have been sent to Iraq for a tour of duty. They also say that the documents and videos that WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.

Manning has supporters who say that he is really a whistleblower who acted in the best interests of the country. One of these, a member of the anti-war group Code Pink, stood up in court and shouted: "Judge, isn't a soldier required to report a war crime?", which the judge ignored, AP reported.

The protester was referring to Manning's alleged leaking of a video showing a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver. ®

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