Baghdad: An American soldier suspected of leaking a military video of an attack on unarmed men in Iraq was charged with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified data and putting national security at risk, the US Army said in a statement Tuesday.
Army Spc. Bradley Manning is suspected of leaking a classified video that shows a group of men walking down the street before being repeatedly shot by the Apache helicopters. The American gunners can be heard laughing and referring to the men as "dead bastards."
If convicted on all charges, Manning could be sentenced to a maximum 52 years in prison.
The classified video was taken from the cockpit during a 2007 fire fight and posted last April on the website Wikileaks.org. It was an unflattering portrait of the war that raised questions about the military`s rules of engagement and whether more should be done to prevent civilian casualties.
Among those believed to have been killed in the attack were a Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver Saeed Chmagh, 40. Two children were wounded.
Hours after the military announcement, Wikileaks sent out a tweet complaining that while Manning was charged, the "trigger-happy Apache crew remain uncharged."
Manning is specifically charged with putting a classified video of a military operation recorded July 12, 2007, in Baghdad on his personal computer. That is the date and the location of the US helicopter shooting. He is also accused of accessing more than 150,000 classified US State Department cables.
While the charging document doesn`t mention Wikileaks, Manning is accused of giving the video and at least one cable "to a person not entitled to receive" them. That cable is titled "Reykjavik 13." Wikileaks has posted a Jan. 13, 2010, cable about a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, summarizing US Embassy discussions with Icelandic officials about the country`s financial troubles.
Manning, 22, from Potomac, Maryland, was detained in Baghdad in early June and is now being held in Kuwait.
A military version of a grand jury hearing will determine if Manning should face a trial by court-martial, the Army`s statement said.
No date has been set for the hearing that will take place in Baghdad, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Bloom told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
A criminal investigation is still open, the Army statement said, detailing charges against Manning including "transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system."
Manning was also charged with "communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source" and with "disclosing classified information concerning the national defense with reason to believe that the information could cause injury to the United States."
An internal military investigation concluded that the troops in the helicopters acted appropriately. According to a last year`s summary of the results of the inquiry, Reuters employees were likely "intermixed among the insurgents" and difficult to distinguish because of their equipment, the document states.
Former computer hacker Adrian Lamo of Sacramento, California, said he alerted the military after Manning confided in him online that he had leaked the video in addition to 260,000 classified diplomatic cables.
Lamo, who first provided his account to Wired.com, said to a news agency last month that he agonized over the decision.
"I turned him in because, for the rest of my life, I`d wonder if something he leaked would have cost a human life," Lamo said.
In 2004, Lamo had pleaded guilty to breaking into The New York Times` computer system and still owes $62,800 in federal restitution. He said he has received no financial benefit from turning in Manning and that the money he owes was never discussed.