SEAL Team Six Commando's Court Martial Appearance 'Rare Occurrence'

Operator may be called in Bradley Manning case to testify over information uploaded to WikiLeaks.

U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted away after a hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland, Oct. 17, 2012.
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SEAL Team Six has not finished its curtain calls for executing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Reports circulated Wednesday that one of the commandos who participated in Operation Neptune's Spear will testify in a closed hearing at the Bradley Manning court martial in June, regarding allegations that bin Laden specifically requested information Manning sent to WikiLeaks.

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Defense officials say this is a "very rare occurrence."

"The background, including duty status, of this member is classified, and further protected by the Court's order," says a spokesperson with the Military District of Washington, overseeing the court martial. The witness will wear civilian clothing and a "light disguise."

"Cases involving the compromise of classified information do not occur very frequently, but precedent does exist," the spokesperson says, specifying a case in the late 1980s, U.S. v. Lonetree, in which a U.S. Marine stationed at the U.S. embassy in Moscow was convicted of espionage. "Although not a member of Special Operations Command, an intelligence agent did testify under a pseudonym in a closed session during that court martial."

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SEAL Team Six is considered a Tier One Special Operations Force whose identity officially remains classified. A special operations source tells U.S. News that operators from these units, which also includes the U.S. Army's Delta Force, would usually appear in court for accusations that exist within their own unit.

"It's a very rare occurrence. There aren't a lot of specifics available about those cases because of their classified nature," the source says.

"It has happened before, but this is a little higher profile," the source says. "In the future, if there is a situation that calls for one of our guys to do this, then I am sure with the right caveats in place, I'm sure we will do our best to support whatever legal actions there are."

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Any member of a classified organization usually must receive clearance from superiors before appearing in court. The Rules for Court Martial require military leaders to allow their subordinates to testify if requested by the convening authority.

Retirees from classified positions must also sign a non-disclosure agreement before leaving the service, and would generally contact their last command to get permission before testifying.

"In this case, the Secretary of Defense invoked the classified information privilege over information related to the identity of the witness," the military district spokesperson says. "After considering measures to protect the due process rights of the accused, the military judge approved the prosecution's request to permit the witness to testify under pseudonym while wearing civilian clothing and light disguise."

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It remains unclear whether the witness at Manning's court martial is still active duty.

The rate at which details of the 2011 top secret operation became public is a testament to the age of Twitter and 24-hour news networks, making it ever more difficult to guard classified information.

Hours after the May 2011 raid took place, President Barack Obama broadcasted a speech outlining his order to send secretive troops to kill the al-Qaida leader. The weeks that followed were filled with a steady trickle of more information about the raid, subsequently leading to a major motion picture, a fictionalized documentary and at least one published first-person account.

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As of April 12, there were more than 166,000 results on Google for "Seal Team Six" and "Bradley Manning."