FORT MEADE, Md. - Supporters of Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning came from around the country to the gates of Fort Meade to encourage him and sing "Happy Birthday" on Saturday as military prosecutors who say he passed government secrets began presenting their case against him inside the Army post near Washington.
On the jailed soldier's 24th birthday, more than 100 supporters chanted "Free Bradley Manning" and waved signs declaring "Army Pfc. Manning is an American hero," and "Free Bradley Manning. Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime."
Juline Jordan, who flew in from Detroit to participate, said she's glad Manning is finally getting his day in court.
"I support what he did because he exposed some horrific war crimes and horrific things done at the hands of the United States government and the Department of Defense, and he's a hero for that," Jordan said.
Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive items including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, but supporters say he made important information available to the public.
After gathering by the main entrance of Fort Meade, protesters walked about a mile for a rally.
Todd Anderson, who lives in New York's Greenwich Village, said he made the drive Saturday morning to support a hero.
"I think this man showed a great deal of courage _ the kind of thing that I wouldn't have the courage to do _ and I really consider him to be a hero," Anderson said.
At the rally, Dan Choi, a gay activist and former Army lieutenant who was discharged from the military for revealing his orientation, said the case has put the United States on trial for its values.
"It's time that we unclassify the truth that the people deserve to know, for that is what we swear to uphold _ those Army values," Choi said to a cheering crowd.
Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed the secret U.S. expansion of the Vietnam War by leaking the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago and has been an outspoken supporter of Manning, was scheduled to speak, but he missed a flight and could not attend, said Jeff Paterson, a rally organizer.
Other protests took place elsewhere in the country and overseas.
In London, several dozen protesters from gay organizations, the Occupy London protest camp and other groups rallied outside the U.S. Embassy calling for Manning's release. Some held placards declaring "Free Bradley Manning" and "Happy Birthday Bradley."
The Obama administration says the information that was released has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained the nation's relations with other governments.
The military is holding a hearing to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring Manning to trial. He could face a term of life in prison as a traitor.
Manning, of Crescent, Okla., has been in detention for 19 months. He is relying on a defense that much of the classified information posed no risk.
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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