WASHINGTON – A military judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a far-reaching charge that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning aided the enemy when he gave hundreds of thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks, an online repository of secrets from the U.S. government as well as other nations and corporations.

In a major victory for the Pentagon and a defeat for Manning, Army Col. Denise Lind rejected a defense motion that she dismiss the most serious of multiple charges filed against Manning. The aiding-the-enemy charge carries the possibility of life in prison; in theory, prosecutors could have asked for the death penalty.

Lind cited Manning’s training as an intelligence analyst, as well as the sheer volume of the 700,000 documents he has acknowledged providing WikiLeaks, as the basis for reasoning that he knew the leak could aid al-Qaida.

Lind’s highly anticipated ruling, delivered in a Fort Meade, Md., courtroom outside of Washington, leaves intact 19 other criminal counts. It does not necessarily mean she ultimately will find Manning guilty on the aiding-the-enemy charge, as the motion to dismiss faces a relatively high legal hurdle.

Manning already has agreed to plead guilty to some of the additional charges, which can bring a sentence of up to 20 years at the Kansas military prison formally known as U.S. Disciplinary Barracks Leavenworth.

The aiding-the-enemy charge, though, has been the most controversial of the prosecution’s case against the 25-year-old Oklahoma native. For Manning, it has raised the question of whether he’ll ever exit prison as a free man. For lawyers, journalists and potential whistleblowers, the case has underscored how leakers and reporters alike have become vulnerable under the Obama administration’s aggressive anti-leak campaign.