The pre-trial hearing of Bradley Manning, the gay soldier accused of sending sensitive documents to the Wikileaks website, begins today in the US state of Marlyand.

The high-security hearing will determine whether he will be sent to a full court-martial for the offences.

Manning was working as a military intelligence specialist when he was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of passing restricted material to the whistleblower website and has been charged with 36 offences, including making information available to the enemy.

The maximum penalty if he is convicted is death, but prosecutors confirmed they would not pursue that option.

Manning’s lawyer said requests for 38 of his 48 listed witnesses, which included his former psychiatrists as well as President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had been declined by the US military.

He reportedly intended witnesses to provide evidence of Manning’s mental fragility.

According to the list of requested witnesses, Witness 29 was to testify that Manning’s sexuality was a “huge issue” for him as he risked losing his job. It is not known whether this unidentified witness was accepted.

But the Bradley Manning Support Network reported Coombs had to invite these witnesses to prepare “mitigation” arguments based on Manning’s mental state in case he is found guilty.

To argue in favour of a reduced sentence, he will reportedly need those witnesses present on the day, due to the speed at which a court-martial progresses.

In records of a conversation released this summer, the gay soldier told a rights campaigner he had been assaulted and mocked in the army because of his sexuality.

Unable to come out because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Manning reportedly said: “It took them a while, but they started figuring me out, making fun of me, mocking me, harassing me, heating up with one or two physical attacks.”

The material Manning is alleged to have leaked included 700,000 US diplomatic and military cables and footage of a July 2007 airstrike on Baghdad. The 23-year-old’s supporters claim that the leaked files expose civilian deaths which had been covered up by the military.

Jeff Patterson of the Bradley Manning support network said beginning the hearing on a Friday before Christmas was “clearly designed to minimise both media coverage and public protests”.

Regarding the high security at the Fort Meade hearing, he said: “The prosecution are pushing for a sentence of life with no parole, so they have to portray him as someone who deserves such extreme punishment.”

The hearing will continue until 22 December.