WASHINGTON -- The Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has notified a court-martial judge that he may plead guilty to at least some of the actions he is accused of, according to David Coombs, his lawyer.
The offer is not part of a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for dropping or reducing some charges or a particular prison sentence. The defendant, Private Bradley Manning, would still face trial on a set of other charges.
They include several charges related to the various files and archives he is accused of leaking, including failure to obey a lawful order, transmitting classified national defense information to someone not authorized to receive it, and stealing government property. The most serious charge he faces is aiding the enemy, which could result in a life sentence.
However, if the judge accepts the unilateral plea and the trial on the other charges goes forward, prosecutors would apparently not need to present evidence of whether Private Manning provided the documents to WikiLeaks. That would mean such a trial would focus more directly on whether the leaking caused significant harm, and whether the charges, including aiding the enemy, fit the underlying facts.
Mr. Coombs notified the military court of his client's offer during a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Md., on Wednesday. He explained the offer "to plead guilty by exceptions and substitutions" in a statement posted on his Web site late Wednesday.
"To clarify, Pfc. 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 court will consider whether this is a permissible plea," Mr. Coombs wrote.
He added: "Pfc. Manning is not submitting a plea as part of an agreement or deal with the government. Further, the government does not need to agree to Pfc. Manning's plea; the court simply has to determine that the plea is legally permissible. If the court allows Pfc. Manning to plead guilty by exceptions and substitutions, the government may still elect to prove up the charged offenses."
If the trial goes forward, Private Manning also elected to be tried by a military judge rather than by a jury of military officers, Mr. Coombs wrote.
Eugene R. Fidell, a military law specialist at Yale Law School who has represented many defendants in courts-martial, said he was "baffled" by the move. He said it was unusual to plead guilty to an action without the benefit of a pretrial agreement to obtain something in return.
Sometimes, Mr. Fidell added, a defendant might hope that such a move would help obtain a more lenient sentence by showing that he was cooperating and saving the government the time and expense of investigating, but in this case the offer has come well after the government already went to that time and expense.
The hearing continued Thursday, and Mr. Coombs did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.