Bradley Manning deserves to be free
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Time magazine chose to crown Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg as its Person of the Year for 2010. But for so many people, it was Julian Assange, who won the popular vote, who was more definitive of the year that was.
In 2010, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief came to symbolise the struggle for government transparency, accountability and freedom of information.
His profile escalated as the media began to take a closer look at Assange himself, and not just the whistle-blowing website he helps run. A media frenzy now surrounds Assange’s every movement, with photographers snapping grainy photographs through darkened car windows.
The facts and rumours of Assange’s personal and professional life have collided to create a sensational story of a persecuted crusader for freedom, or a person for whom calls of assassination seem reasonable, depending on where your news comes from.
But while the media focuses on Assange, a 23-year-old US army private from Potomac, Maryland, is hidden from the world’s eye — barred from any communication with media.
Bradley Manning has been held in maximum security at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia since July. In the two months previous to that, immediately after his arrest in May, Manning was held in a military jail in Kuwait.
Manning, an army intelligence analyst, was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, east of Baghdad in Iraq, when he was arrested on suspicion of leaking classified military information to Wikileaks. If convicted, Manning faces up to 52 years in jail.
Among the things Manning is accused of leaking is the horrific Collateral Murder video. This video, released by Wikileaks last April, showed US soldiers in occupied Iraq shooting 11 civilians dead, including two foreign journalists, from a helicopter.
As a member of the military, Manning will be tried by court-martial, rather than in a civilian court.
Held for eight months already, Manning is awaiting a pre-trial hearing, known as an Article 32. This is a routine proceeding in cases heard by a general court-martial, the most serious type of military trial.
David Coombs, a US army court-martial defence specialist and Manning’s lawyer, said on his website that the Article 32 hearing is meant to serve as an impartial investigation into the charges, in order to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
Unless the case is dismissed during pre-trial (Article 32) proceedings, Manning will go to trial and have his case heard by either a military judge or a jury made up of military officers and enlisted service-members.
In most cases of trial by jury, conviction requires a two-thirds majority.
These proceedings are still in the future and Manning has been convicted of no crime.
Yet he remains in solitary confinement. For 23 hours a day, Coombs said on his website, he is held in a six foot by 12 foot cell with the light on at all times. In the cell is a bed, a water fountain and toilet.
A January 8 Alternet.org article said that he is not allowed basic items such as sheets or pillows.
Manning’s daily activities are severely restricted. He is not permitted to do any form of exercise in his cell, if he attempts exercise he is instructed to stop. He is allowed one hour of exercise outside his cell daily, where Coombs said he is “taken to any empty room and allowed only to walk”.
He is not allowed to sleep at any time between 5am and 8pm, if he tries to sleep during these hours he is made to sit up or stand. All of Manning's meals must be consumed in his cell.
No personal items are permitted, but Manning is allowed to watch some local television stations for a period of one-to-three hours on weekdays and three-to-six hours on weekends.
He is allowed to have up to 15 books or magazines, which he must request by name. All publications are reviewed for “suitability”. He is allowed to receive letters only from those on his approved list and his legal counsel; any other letters sent for him are either returned or destroyed.
Manning has had no episodes of self-harm or disciplinary problems since being in custody. Despite this, Coombs said Manning remains detained under “prevention of injury” watch.
Guards check on him every five minutes asking if he is okay. He is required to respond in “some affirmative manner”.
Many individuals and organisations have voiced concern for Manning’s pre-trial conditions, including US non-profit organisation Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PSR).
In a January 3 open letter to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, PSR called Manning’s treatment “sufficiently harsh as to have aroused international concern”.
PSR said: “We therefore call for a revision in the conditions of PFC Manning’s incarceration while he awaits trial, based on the exhaustive documentation and research that have determined that solitary confinement is, at the very least, a form of cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment in violation of U.S. law.”
It is unlikely Manning will enjoy a reprieve from his current conditions any time soon.
Coombs said: “Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning, unlike his civilian counterpart, is afforded no civil remedy for illegal restraint ... Thus, the only judicial recourse that is available is under Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“Article 13 safeguards against unlawful pre-trial punishment and embodies the precept that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Further, Article 13 provides that confinement imposed upon service-members awaiting trial not to be “any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence”.
However, an Article 13 motion cannot be raised at this stage in proceedings. In a statement on his website, Coombs said the defence will continue to work through military channels and the Army Staff Judge Advocate’s (SJA) Office to remove the harsh conditions of confinement, until such time that an Article 13 motion can be made for Manning.
The story of how Manning came to be held in solitary confinement is as extraordinary as the conditions he has been placed under at the military prison.
Last May, Manning is said to have contacted Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who now works as a security analyst and journalist, BBC.co.uk said on June 8.
After having an online conversation with Manning in which he allegedly confessed to leaking information to Wikileaks, Lamo contacted the FBI. This resulted in Manning’s arrest.
It is unclear why Manning sought contact with Lamo in the first place. Lamo said it was due to his public support of Wikileaks on the social networking site Twitter.
Before their online chats, Lamo says he received a number of encrypted emails from Manning. The content of the emails is unknown.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald said in a December 27 Salon.com article that Lamo told him he was not able to read the emails before he turned them over to the FBI.
It is possible that these emails hold the key as to why Manning felt safe to divulge to Lamo explicit information detailing data he allegedly leaked to Wikileaks.
After sending the encrypted emails, Lamo said Manning contacted him on May 21 via AOL Instant Messenger (IM), a June 10 Wired.com article reported.
Chat logs supplied by Lamo and partially published on Wired.com indicate Manning identified himself as an army intelligence analyst and posed the question to Lamo: “If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?”
The chat logs indicate that during the course of their chats, Manning revealed himself as being a “high profile” Wikileaks source, including having leaked the Collateral Murder video, as well as a video of an airstrike in Afghanistan and 260,000 US embassy cables.
The logs record that Manning said he hoped the reaction to the cables would “hopefully [be] worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms”.
“If not,” Manning said, “then we're doomed, as a species, I will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens.”
He said: “The reaction to the [Collateral Murder] video gave me immense hope … CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed … Twitter exploded … People who saw, knew there was something wrong.
“I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
Speaking in the logs of his motivation to blow the whistle and leak classified documents, Manning describes the point at which he started to question his complicity in a military process he was “completely against”.
“I think the thing that got me the most … that made me rethink the world more than anything was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police (FP) … for printing ‘anti-Iraqi literature’.
“The Iraqi Federal Police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so I was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the ‘bad guys’ were, and how significant this was for the FPs.
“It turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki … I had an interpreter read it for me … and when I found out that it was a benign political critique titled ‘Where did the money go?’ and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet, I immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on … he didn’t want to hear any of it … he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…”
Soon after Manning allegedly revealed he had leaked classified information to Wikileaks, Lamo contacted the FBI.
Lamo told Wired.com on June 6 that he had “agonized over the decision to expose Manning”. He said: “I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren't in danger.”
Lamo gave a similar justification when speaking on the Risky Business podcast on June 10: “I made a conscious decision to severely affect the life of another human being in order to prevent the lives of other human beings from being seriously and adversely effected by the leakage of classified material.”
However, talking to the BBC on June 8, Lamo’s decision to turn government informant seemed to be a more self-serving decision as opposed to an agonising effort to save hypothetical lives.
“At the moment he gave me the information,” Lamo said, “it was basically a suicide pact. I didn’t want any more FBI agents knocking at the door.”
In 2004, Lamo found himself in trouble with US authorities when he was convicted for hacking into the New York Times, Greenwald reported in a June 15 Salon.com article.
Whereas Manning speaks of his motivation to turn whistleblower as wanting “people to see the truth” about “damning” incidents, Lamo’s reasons for hacking into private business networks come with less honourable justification.
“I've never made an argument that there’s any particular right or moral principle that makes the exploration of private domains OK,” Lamo told Information Week in a 2002 interview. “I’m not saying it’s right. It's what I do.”
After turning Manning in to US authorities, Lamo told the June 9 Yahoo News that the FBI requested he continue chatting with Manning.
Lamo quizzed Manning on the process of submission to Wikileaks, how to contact Assange (“does he use AIM or other messenging services?”), and the physical and technical method of leaking data from the military workstations.
Several days after their first contact, and likely after Lamo had approached the FBI, he asked Manning: “What would you do if your role [with] WikiLeaks seemed in danger of being blown?”
To which Manning responded: “Try and figure out how I could get my side of the story out … before everything was twisted around to make me look like Nidal Hassan.”
He continued: “I don’t think it's going to happen. I mean, I was never noticed.”
In a taunting forewarning Lamo told him: “I’d be one paranoid boy in your shoes.”
Manning’s candid comments to Lamo appear to indicate a level of trust and lead to an obvious speculation about assumed confidentiality. Lamo insists no confidentiality was implicit in his conversations with Manning.
“I was a private citizen in a private capacity — there was no source, journalist relationship,” Lamo told the BBC.
Lamo also told Yahoo News that he was not acting as a journalist when talking with Manning, and further claimed that Manning turned down an offer to have his identity protected.
At present, US prosecutors are looking to build a case against Wikileaks and Assange. To do so, they require proof that Assange worked actively to assist Manning in extracting the classified information — rather than simply acting in the capacity of a journalist working with a source.
Wired.com has published just 25% of the Manning/Lamo chat logs, but Wired.com editor in chief Evan Hanse said on Twitter: “I just reviewed the full text and all descriptions of Manning’s relationship with Assange and WikiLeaks are already public.”
Commenting on the likelihood of charges being levelled against Wikileaks based on information already public, Sean Bonner said in a December 29 BoingBoing.net article that said there was “little to suggest the degree of collaboration between Pvt. Manning and WikiLeaks that prosecutors may need to pursue charges”.
With Manning held in solitary confinement, there is a question that poses itself and was raised by Greenwald in a June 18 Salon.com piece: “Why would he contact a total stranger, whom he randomly found from a Twitter search, in order to ‘quickly’ confess to acts that he knew could send him to prison for a very long time, perhaps his whole life?
“And why would he choose to confess over the Internet, in an unsecured, international AOL IM chat, given the obvious ease with which that could be preserved, intercepted or otherwise surveilled?”
“These are the actions of someone either unbelievably reckless or actually eager to be caught.”
It is hard to imagine someone being “eager to be caught” and facing a long prison sentence. And if Manning was responsible for the transfer of more than 250,000 classified files from US authorities to Wikileaks, it is hard to imagine such a feat could have been achieved by someone “unbelievably reckless”.
With Manning prohibited from making statements to the press, the nature of his relationship with Lamo, and the truth of statements made by Lamo, remain unverified.
The case of Manning and Lamo is highly unusual. If the Manning/Lamo chat logs are authentic, then we are left with no choice but to trust the process of US military judicial system to reveal in time the reasons why Manning felt he could trust Lamo to the extent he did.
In the meantime, whatever the truth of the matter, Manning remains subject to inhumane treatment in his tiny cell by US authorities — despite not having been found guilty of a crime.
But even if Manning is guilty of what he is accused of, he should not be in prison. The information he is alleged to have released reveals very serious war crimes. The release of this information is in the interests of humanity.
It is the war criminals, whose crimes are being increasingly exposed by Wikileaks, who should be standing trial
It is important that the movement that has sprung up around the world to defend Wikileaks in a variety of ways also takes up the case of Bradley Manning — and demands his freedom.
[For more information, or for ways to support Manning, visit www.bradleymanning.org .]
Below: Daniel Ellsberg, a US whistleblower who leaked the "Pentagon Papers" to the media during the Vietnam War, talks about Bradley Manning. The Pentagon Papers revealed that the US government knew early on that the Vietnam War was not likely winnable and would lead to many times more casualties than ever admitted.