A US Army private charged in the biggest security breach in US history is trying to avoid trial by claiming he was already punished enough when he was locked up alone in a small cell and forced to sleep naked for several nights.
A pre-trial hearing began in the case of Private Bradley Manning, who is charged with spilling US secrets to the website WikiLeaks. Manning supporters packed the courtroom at Fort Meade near Baltimore, Maryland, many wearing black t-shirts with the word "Truth" in white lettering.
Military commanders involved in the confinement of Manning are expected to be questioned first at the hearing, which is expected to last several days.
Manning's lawyers contend he was illegally punished by being locked up alone in a small cell for nearly nine months at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, where he had to sleep naked for several nights.
Judges can dismiss all charges if pre-trial punishment is particularly egregious, but that rarely happens. The usual remedy is credit at sentencing for time served, said Lisa M Windsor, a retired army colonel and former army judge advocate now in private practice.
In a 1956 case, US v Bayhand, a military appeals court ordered all charges to be dismissed against a soldier who had been forced during his pre-trial confinement to do hard labour alongside a sentenced prisoner. The court ruled that the soldier had been given an illegal order.
Since then, there have been few, if any, cases in which pre-trial punishment has led to dismissal of all charges. Lieutenant Colonel Eric Carpenter, chairman of the criminal law department at the judge advocates school in Charlottesville, Virginia, said he could not find one but he could not say for sure that the remedy has not been granted.
Manning has also offered to take responsibility for the leak by pleading guilty to reduced charges. The military judge has not yet ruled on the offer and prosecutors have not said whether they would still pursue the charges against him.
He was kept at the Marine Corps brig from July 2010 to April 2011. The military contends the treatment at Quantico was proper, given Manning's classification as a maximum-security detainee who posed a risk of injury to himself or others. He was later moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was re-evaluated and given a medium-security classification.
A United Nations investigator called the conditions of Manning's time at Quantico cruel, inhumane and degrading, but stopped short of calling it torture.