WASHINGTON — The Army on Wednesday filed 22 new charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of illegally downloading tens of thousands of classified U.S. military and State Department documents that were then publicly released by WikiLeaks, military officials told NBC News.
The most serious of the new charges is "aiding the enemy," a capital offense that could carry a potential death sentence.
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Pentagon and military officials say some of the classified information released by WikiLeaks contained the names of informants and others who had cooperated with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, endangering their lives.
According to the officials, the U.S. military rounded up many of those named and brought them into their bases for protection. But, according to one military official, "We didn't get them all." Military officials tell NBC News a small number of them still have not been found.
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, did not immediately return a call from msnbc.com for comment.
But Coombs wrote on his blog Wednesday that it was uncertain whether any additional charges filed against his client would stick.
"The decision to prefer charges is an individual one by PFC Manning's commander," he wrote. "The nature of the charges and the number of specifications under each reflects his determination, in consultation with his Staff Judge Advocate's office, of the possible offenses in this case. Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial.”
Manning, 23, was first charged on July 6, 2010, with four counts of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for disobeying an order or regulation and eight counts of violating Article 134, a general charge for misconduct, which in this case involved breaking federal laws against disclosing classified information. He was accused of illegally downloading and transferring defense information to an "unauthorized source" when he worked as a military intelligence analyst in Baghdad. He was also accused of obtaining 150,000 classified State Department cables, many of which WikiLeaks eventually released.
The charges filed Wednesday include 16 specifications of wrongfully causing classified material to be published on the Internet and knowing that the information would be accessed by the enemy; theft of public property or records; transmitting defense information and computer fraud.
He was also charged with "information assurance" and "security program" violations.
"The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Pvt. 1st Class Manning is accused of committing," said Capt. John Haberland, a legal spokesman for the Military District of Washington.
While conviction on the charge of "aiding the enemy" could result in the death penalty, military prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on that charge alone. But the presiding military judge would have the authority to dismiss the prosecution's recommendation and impose the death penalty.
Like the earlier charges, the charges made no specific mention of WikiLeaks.
Pentagon and military officials also report that investigators have made no direct link between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
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Manning remains in custody at the U.S. Marine Brig at Quantico south of Washington, D.C., awaiting court martial proceedings.
Coombs, Manning's lawyer, has complained that his confinement conditions — in maximum custody under a “prevention of injury” watch — are unduly harsh and undermine his right to a fair trial. Manning has been confined in a 6-by-12-foot cell with a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet for about 23 hours a day, Coombs has said.
Anti-war groups, a psychologist group as well as filmmaker Michael Moore and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg have called for Bradley to be released from detention. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have condemned the Obama administration's imprisonment conditions.
James Eng of msnbc.com contributed to this report.