FORT MEADE, Md. -- Bradley Manning agreed Monday to allow a government statement to be used as evidence in his trial, indicating that documents he sent to WikiLeaks were in Osama bin Laden's possession when he was killed. Allowing the statement as evidence avoids potentially dramatic courtroom testimony from a member of the 2011 raid on the al Qaeda leader's compound.
Though weeks in the making, Manning's decision took only a few minutes in the courtroom. It allows a crucial piece of evidence to the government's case that Manning aided the enemy, a charge that carries a possible life sentence.
"Do you understand what this stipulation of fact is to be used for?" Col. Denise Lind, the judge overseeing the case, asked Manning before allowing it to be entered as evidence.
"Yes ma'am," Manning replied.
What that stipulation of fact -- an agreement between the prosecution and defense -- will be used for is trying to show that Manning's disclosures directly helped the al Qaeda leader.
The crucial details, according to the government: the raid recovered "a letter from UBL to a member of al-Qaeda requesting the member gather Department of Defense material posted to WikiLeaks ... a letter from the same member of al-Qaeda to UBL, attached to which was the Afghanistan War Log as posted by WikiLeaks … (and) the Department of State information released by Wikileaks."
Also entered as evidence on Monday were facts about a June 3, 2011 recruitment video released by U.S.-born al Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn, calling on militants to read WikiLeaks' collection of State Department cables. Additional facts were entered about a winter 2010 edition of the al Qaeda magazine Inspire, which called on followers to archive WikiLeaks disclosures.
Manning has plead guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, but he is fighting in court the allegation that he aided the enemy. Critics have said that the highly controversial charge could also be used to criminalize journalists' sources.
Prosecutors don't allege Manning intended to give the documents to al Qaeda -- only that he should have known that his disclosures could have wound up in their hands. Lind will still need to weigh the significance of the stipulations entered into the record on Monday, but some military experts have been skeptical that she will find Manning guilty of aiding the enemy -- a charge last successfully prosecuted during the Civil War.