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Saturday, 2 April 2011

FEATURE: Manning's uncertain fate

For the past ten months he has been held in a tiny obstructive jail of only a few feet wide, first in an army prison in Kuwait, and later in the military prison in Quantico, Virginia. He is held in what the US goverment calls 'maximum security conditions'. Bradley Manning, the american private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents to whistleblower website Wikileaks, languishes in inhuman conditions, waiting for a trial that could end up with the application of the death penalty.

In the last months Manning has spent 23 hours every day closed in a windowness 6,7 square metre cell. His only companions there are a bed, a sink and a toilet. He is allowed to leave the cell only for one hour a day. He is also prevented from practising any type of exercise while being in the cell. Only in the scarce hour that he is allowed to walk outside his solitary prison, he is taken to a slightly bigger cell, where he can walk in figures of eight and is not allowed to run or practise any physical activity.

He is held awake between 5am and 8pm. If he falls asleep, guards awaken him. During the day, he remains under 'Prevention of injury' regime to prevent any temptative of suicide, whereby he has to respond 'yes' every five minutes to the two guards that stand beside his cell. For two months he was held in 'full suicide watch', another perverse euphemism that involved stripping him to his underwear and having his glasses confiscated in order to prevent any self-injury. He is also allowed to have either a book or a magazine at a time. If he has any visitors, he is shackled by hand and foot, and two guards monitor every movement he does and listen to every word he pronounces.

The inhuman conditions of his confinement have been described in an 11-page letter that Manning wrote to his lawyer, David Coombs, and later confirmed by the few friends that were allowed to visit Manning at Quantico. The situation has also been denounced by different lawyers and campaign groups such as Amnesty International. Several protests around the world have pleaded for Manning to be held in better conditions.

Manning, an ex-US private, was born in Oklahoma in 1987, and when his parents divorced he flew with his mother to Wales, where he lived for four years. Since 2000 to 2004 he attended the Tasker Milward school in Harverdfordwest, Pembrokeshire. Now, protesters all over the UK rely on the fact that, according to the 1981 British Nationality Act, any person born after 1983 to a UK citizen, even if not living in the UK, obtains immediately the British nationality. However, according to Amnesty International the UK government has failed to visit Manning and demand better confinement conditions for him.

Protests were also held in front of the US embassy in London, were around 100 people demanded better conditions for Manning’s imprisonement and a fair trial. Welsh campaigners also joined the protests.

Plaid Cymru’s MP Ann Clwyd, who is also member of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, raised Manning's case in Parliament and asked for a debate. “Manning's confinement situation serves no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade him. Manning is being subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This is particularly disturbing when one considers that he hasn't even been brought to trial, let alone convicted of a crime. I regard myself as a great friend and admirer of the United States, but this treatment of one of their own soldiers ill-becomes that otherwise great nation. I do not say this lightly, but Bradley Manning's treatment has uncomfortable echos of the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. I implore the US Administration to treat Bradley Manning humanely whilst he is detained. There is increasing concern about Bradley Manning's case in the UK, and in particular in Wales, so I will continue to raise te case of Bradley Manning with the UK Government. I do not think it is acceptable for the UK Government to refuse to engage with the case and I call upon the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to officially raise Bradley Manning's case with his US counterpart", said.

Amnesty International also launched a worldwide campaign to support Bradley Manning in which the organisation asked people to get involved by sending petitions to the US authorities in order to improve Manning’s confinement conditions. Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Programme Director expressed her concern about the situation of private Manning. “We are concerned that the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecesarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities. Such repressive conditions breach the US’s obligations to treat detainees with humanity and dignity. We are also concerned that isolation and prolonged celular confinement may undermine Manning’s ability to defend himself. We urge the US authorities to review Bradley Manning’s situation. Under international standards, prisoners who have not yet stood trial should be treated in accordance with their right to the pressumption of innocence. Our concerns regarding his treatment are further heightened by the fact that military pshychiatrists have repeatedly recommended that Bradley Manning be removed from ‘Prevention of injury’ status”, explained Lee.

The secret files

When in late 2010 Bradley Manning leaked more than 250,000 documents to different international newspapers, nobody had a grasp of the consequences of one of the biggest leaks in the history of the United States. The cables showed dispatches from 250 US embassies and consulates around the world, which pictured an in-depth image of the US diplomacy. The files, which are top-secret documents that could only be accessed by US intelligence officers, included political analysis, detailed accounts and embassy officer’s impressions about the different countries intended to be read by the US authorities in Washington.

Before becoming a US private Manning used to be a high-skilled hacker. When he joined the US army he was assigned to a support battalion at the Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq. From his position he could access to a SIPRNet, a digital platform that the US Government used to transmit classified information.

According to the published chatlog of the conversation that Manning had with a friend, Manning came to the base with a CD labelled ‘Lady Gaga’, he erased the music, wrote a compressed file with all the documents. "I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like 'Lady Gaga'. No one suspected a thing. I listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga's Telephone while exfiltratin possibly the largest data spillage in American history. I have unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day seven days a week for eight months", he said in the conversation.

The chatlog register also shows that Manning knew that the leaking of these documents would have a massive impact in the US international relations. "Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public. Everywhere there is a US post, there is a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. It's beautiful, and horrifying. Information should be free. It belongs in the public domain", said Manning to his fellow hacker-activist.

After saving all the documents in the CD, he uploaded them to whistleblower website Wikileaks, but Julian Assange, the man in charge of the page, decided not to publish them immediately. The Wikileaks activists went through all the documents and disclosed the most important information. Early in April the website published the footage of an Apache helicopter shooting at the crowds in Iraq. Finally, the disclosed cables were leaked to four main international newspapers. A few days later, Assange was accused with having carried sexual assaults to two women in Sweden, and Manning was arrested and imprisoned. The friend whom he spoke with at the chatlog, Adrian Lamo, was the one who turned him to the FBI.

Manning's situation

The future of Bradley Manning is hard to predict. Last month the US Army added 22 new charges against the ex private, among them 'aiding the enemy'. If found guilty, this charge could carry death penalty. Manning faces, at least, life-long condemns for 34 charges such as high treason, leaking classified documents, theft of public property or records, transmitting defence information and computer fraud. Manning was also recently accused of attacking his stepmother with a knife before joining the army in 2007.

Manning's imprisonement conditions have already caused some reactions among the US politics. Early in March, US department spokesman PJ Crowley quitted, arguing that the treatment of Manning was being counterproductive for the american interests. Crowley said that the prosecution started against Manning is well grounded, but the fact that he is being held in such inhumane conditions has eclipsed the whole case.

In the meantime Bradley Manning still languishes in the same tiny cell where he has been held since June 2010, waiting for a trial that, it seems, never comes.

By CDR with 1 comment
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