Yochai Benkler, a professor at Harvard Law School, took the stand this afternoon in Maryland to testify during the defense portion of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning’s court martial.

According to Charlie Savage of the New York Times, who has been live-tweeting the proceedings, Benkler testified that WikiLeaks is a legitimate journalistic organization that the government has branded threatening an anti-American.

Manning currently faces an espionage charge for leaking classified military documents and footage to WikiLeaks. The defense opened their portion of the trial yesterday with the 39-minute cockpit video at the center of the case. It shows a 2007 attack that killed 11 people, including a Reuters photographer and his driver, according to the Washington Post.

Manning already faces up to 20 years in prison for pleading guilty to lesser charges, but the defense is currently seeking an acquittal for the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, for which Manning could receive a life sentence.

Benkler wrote in this New York Times editorial (co-authored by Pentagon Papers lawyer Floyd Abrams) that the argument that Manning was aiding the enemy is flawed.

Under the prosecution’s theory, because Private Manning knew the materials would be published and that Al Qaeda could read them once published, he indirectly communicated with the enemy. But in this theory, whether publication is by WikiLeaks or The Times is entirely beside the point. Defendants are guilty of “aiding the enemy” for leaking to a publishing medium simply because that publication can be read by anyone with an Internet connection.

According to Savage’s Twitter, the defense rested shortly before 3 p.m., making Benkler the last witness called in the trial. The government must respond to a request by Manning’s defense team to acquit him of as many as seven charges before the trial can move forward into sentencing. It is scheduled to end by August 23.

Photo courtesy of TED