WikiLeaks suspect's trial could wait until June

FORT MEADE, Maryland (AFP) - A US judge said on Wednesday that the trial of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning could be delayed until June, a day after she shortened the soldier's sentence due to his harsh detention.

With prosecutors seeking time to review classified documents, military judge Denise Lind gave June 3 as a date to start the trial of the 25-year-old Army private who is accused of one of the biggest data leaks in US history.

But she said that the date for the trial's opening arguments - initially set for March 6 - would be definitively decided on Jan 16 during the next hearing at the military base in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Mr Nathan Fuller, a spokesman for a support group for Manning, criticised the potential delay, saying that the private could be in jail for three years from the time of his May 2010 arrest by the time his trial begins.

"Such a massive delay is ridiculous," he said, referring more specifically to the time from his arrest until the first pre-trial hearing in December 2011.

Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive US documents including internal diplomatic correspondence to Julian Assange's WikiLeaks website, enraging US officials.

Manning faces life in prison. But Lind on Monday reduced the potential sentence by 112 days because of his sometimes "excessive" and illegal conditions in jail, where he was kept in a solitary cell 23 hours a day.

But Judge Lind refused a defense request to drop all charges against Manning due to his conditions, saying that the government had to ensure he did not commit suicide in light of his mental health history.

Military authorities have faced wide criticism over their treatment of Manning, with the former chief spokesman for the State Department, Philip J. Crowley, resigning after saying he could not defend the prison conditions.

Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, on Wednesday introduced a revised proposal under which the young private would plead guilty to 10 charges that would lead to a total of 20 years in prison.

A hearing in February will consider the proposal. But the offer does not include a plea on the most serious charge of "aiding the enemy," which carries life in prison and would still need to come to trial.

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