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Army private offers lesser plea in WikiLeaks case

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David Dishneau

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Bradley Manning ... offered to plead guilty to lesser charges.

Bradley Manning ... offered to plead guilty to lesser charges.

A US Army private charged with sending mountains of classified documents to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks has offered to plead guilty to reduced charges in a move that military justice experts called surprising and potentially pointless.

The unilateral offer, if accepted by the military judge, would still leave the government free to prosecute Private Bradley Manning on the original 22 counts, including aiding the enemy. That means even with the plea offer, he could still face life in prison.

Prosecutors could choose not to put Manning on trial for those more serious charges, but "I find it hard to imagine that happening in this case," said Eugene Fidell, a former Coast Guard judge advocate who teaches military law at Yale. "The government has had a very long time to conduct extensive investigations and presumably has its evidence ready to roll."

The judge, Army Colonel Denise Lind, didn't say when she would rule on the offer that defence attorney David Coombs revealed on Wednesday during a pretrial hearing. Manning would acknowledge he sent WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war reports and State Department diplomatic cables, but wouldn't plead guilty to aiding the enemy or to violations of federal espionage and computer laws.