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US soldier in Wikileaks case offers plea to lesser offenses

A US Army private accused of leaking thousands of classified documents to the website Wikileaks has offered to plead guilty to less serious crimes, his lawyer has said.

Private First Class Bradley Manning (above center) is attempting to arrange a plea bargain with his military prosecutors, his lawyer revealed Wednesday during a pre-trial hearing at Forte Meade, Maryland.

But his lawyer, David Coombs, stressed that his client is not accepting guilt for all offenses, saying: Manning "is not pleading guilty to the specifications as charged by the government."

"Rather, PFC Manning is attempting to accept responsibility for offenses that are encapsulated within, or are a subset of, the charged offenses."

The military must decide if Manning's plea is "legally permissible" in court, and then prosecutors could decide whether to pursue all charges against him. He potentially faces life imprisonment if convicted.

"PFC Manning is not submitting a plea as part of an agreement or deal with the government," Coombs added.

Manning's plea deal could allow him to admit to passing government information, but not plead guilty to the government's charges related to computer fraud and aiding the enemy. The plea would also potentially simplify the trial, which is set to begin February 4, 2013.

However, even if the government accepts the plea deal, the more serious charges against Manning could still be pursued, according to Coombs.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 while serving as an army intelligence analyst near Baghdad. He is charged with leaking classified military intelligence files on Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as some 260,000 diplomatic cables.

The publication of the files by Wikileaks caused enormous embarrassment to the US, and angered its allies abroad.

Wikileaks never confirmed that Manning was the source of their information.

dr/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)