Hundreds of activists are planning to demonstrate outside Fort Meade this weekend in support of Army Private Bradley Manning, the former intelligence analyst accused of sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, organizers said.
The demonstrators are to include Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the Vietnam War records known as the Pentagon Papers; gay veteran Lt. Dan Choi, a national leader in the campaign to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; and busloads from the Occupy Wall Street and Washington encampments.
Manning, 23, is scheduled to appear at Fort Meade on Friday for a preliminary hearing on charges that include aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Manning is suspected of leaking field reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables that included analyses and observations of foreign leaders and governments, and video footage of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed 12 in Baghdad.
The five-day Article 32 hearing is to be his first appearance since his May 2010 arrest in Iraq. It will also to be a return to Maryland for Manning, who lived in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before he enlisted in the Army in 2010.
Organizers with the Bradley Manning Support Network say hundreds will participate in a vigil on Friday and a march and rally on Saturday. They say more than 50 demonstrations will take place around the world on Saturday, Manning’s 24th birthday.
Manning’s supporters say that the information he is accused of leaking was incorrectly and illegally classified, and that whoever disclosed it should be protected as a whistle-blower.
His detention at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. — where he was held from July 2010 until April of this year in a maximum-security, single-occupancy cell, placed on a prevention-of-injury order and allowed to wear only a suicide-proof smock at night — drew concern from Amnesty International and a request to visit from a United Nations torture investigator.
Manning was moved in April to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
President Barack Obama and Pentagon officials have defended the conditions of his detention.
Fort Meade is one of three bases within the Military District of Washington that have a courtroom that can accommodate the proceeding, according to a spokeswoman.