Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of being behind the largest leak of state secrets in US history, is expected this week to speak publicly for the first time since his arrest in May 2010.
The alleged source of the massive WikiLeaks dump of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables and war logs is expected to be called as a witness at the latest pre-trial hearing opening in Fort Meade army base in Maryland on Tuesday afternoon. His direct address to the court will be a poignant event that will be followed closely by both his supporters, who see him as a heroic whistleblower, and his detractors, who regard him as a traitor.
Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning support network said it would be a very telling moment. "Until now we've only heard from Bradley through his family and lawyers, so it's going to be a real insight into his personality to hear him speak for himself for the first time."
The hearing, slated to last until Sunday, also marks a crucial stage in the legal proceedings in the run-up to a full court martial scheduled for 4 February.
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, is seeking to have any eventual sentence imposed on the soldier radically reduced or even entirely negated on the grounds that he was subjected to pre-trial punishment while he was confined at Quantico marine base in Virginia.