Pentagon: Manning's leaks gave intelligence to al Qaeda, militants

U.S. military prosecutors on Monday argued classified information sent to WikiLeaks by former Army Pfc. Bradley Manning may have ended up in the hands of al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. 

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“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy," Army prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow said during the opening of Manning's court-martial at Fort Meade, Md. 

Manning is facing 22 federal charges of treason and espionage after handing thousands of classified Pentagon and State Department documents to the website WikiLeaks in 2010. 

The case has become a touchstone for civil rights activists, who claim Manning is being unfairly persecuted by the Obama administration for disclosing the information. 

Since being taken into military custody three years ago, Manning has admitted to providing the classified information to WikiLeaks in an attempt to spark public debate on U.S. actions in Iraq and around the world. 

In February, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges but said he was innocent of charges that the leaked information supported terrorist or insurgent groups fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

But the sensitive and classified documents Manning sent to WikiLeaks included "material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk,” Morrow told the military court Monday, according to reports. 

The 25-year-old former Army intelligence analyst could receive life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy and of violating of the Espionage Act. 

Manning's defense team argued Manning carefully picked out which documents to leak in an attempt to prevent any undue harm to his fellow soldiers still fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. 

“He had access to literally hundreds of millions of documents as an all-source analyst, and these were the documents that he released. And he released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place," Manning's defense attorney, David Coombs, told the court. 

Much of the information included classified State Department cables between Washington and various diplomatic outposts.

However, Manning also sent classified video of U.S. air strikes in Iraq where civilians were injured or killed. 

He provided a video that showed American attack helicopters firing on foreign journalists in Iraq when the news crew was mistaken for group of insurgents. 

The video sparked outrage among Iraqi and other allies in the Mideast, just as the Pentagon was laying the groundwork for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. 

The Manning court-martial is the culmination of nearly three years of pretrial hearings and motions, where both sides argued over what classified information can be allowed into trial. 

Similar legal battles have plagued the military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators face terrorism charges. 

Civil rights activists claim Manning had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment during his incarceration, similar to the treatment of the terror detainees in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo. 

Manning's trial coincides with renewed efforts by President Obama to shut down the military tribunals in Cuba. 

Obama in May demanded lawmakers take action and shutter the Guantánamo prison. 

"I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama told reporters in May. 

"It is expensive. It is inefficient ... It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts," the president said. "It is a recruitment tool for extremists [and] it needs to be closed."

As part of that effort, administration officials will begin reviewing options to shut down the prison and "reengage with Congress to try and make [that] case," Obama said at the time.