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Bradley Manning hearing begins with call for judge to quit

Reuters/Olivia Harris

US soldier Bradley Manning appeared in a US military court for the first time Friday, accused of passing thousands of classified US documents to WikiLeaks. His civil lawyer, David Coombs, called on the judge, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Almanza, to stand down, dubbing him a stooge of the Defence Department.

Wearing a green camouflage uniform, Manning appeared calm as he chatted to Coombs and two US army officers, his military-appointed lawyers, at the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland.

It was his first appearance in public his arrest in May 2010.

In London on Thursday WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won the right to appeal against his extradition to Sweden where he faces rape charges that he claims are part of a campaign to silence him.

The hearing into his case starts three days before his 24th birthday.

He is accused of supplying WikiLeaks with US diplomatic cables, videos and military reports from Afghanistan and Iraq while serving as an intelligence analyst on a military base near Baghdad between November 2009 and May 2010.

Asked by the investigating officer, a US Army lieutenant colonel whose name was not given, whether he had been read the charges and understood his rights, Manning replied: "Yes, sir."

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Fort Meade near Baltimore, Maryland, is the headquarters of the top secret National Security Agency.

Manning suffered treatement that some of his supporters claimed amounted to torture before being given an upgrade in April.

A US military expert told reporters that it was an investigative hearing, not to determine guilt or innocence but to review the evidence and charges.

An investigating officer will then recommend whether to move to a court-martial.

Ahead of the hearing, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Manning’s action as “very damaging”, claiming that it “put at risk individuals and relationships to an extent that we took very seriously”.

Adrian Lamo, the hacker who led US authorities to Manning, has said that he would suffer “lasting regret” if Manning is given a long prison sentence but added that he thought his action was justified by national security considerations.