Alleged WikiLeaks source suffers out of spotlight

Tue, Dec 21, 2010, 00:00

Concern is growing over the harsh conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention as he awaits his court martial, writes LARA MARLOWE,Washington Correspondent

WHILE JULIAN Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, celebrated his release on bail last week with cocktails before being driven to “mansion arrest” at a 650-acre estate in Sussex, Private First Class Bradley Manning was mouldering away in solitary confinement in the brig at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, deprived of exercise, news or even a sheet or pillow.

Assange (39) is preparing for an extradition trial in February, which will determine whether he is sent to Sweden on charges of sexual assault. Manning, who turned 23 last Friday, was arrested seven months ago in Iraq, where he served as a US army intelligence analyst. He was jailed for two months in Kuwait before being transferred to Virginia in July.

Manning is believed to have leaked the “collateral murder” video of a US Apache helicopter killing 11 people in Baghdad in 2007, including two Reuters journalists. Two children were wounded in the same attack. The classified video was published by WikiLeaks in April.

Manning is also suspected of having provided hundreds of thousands of documents, many of them classified, about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and US diplomatic cables, to WikiLeaks.

Manning was charged on June 6th with two counts of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including eight criminal offences and four non-criminal violations of army regulations. Prosecutors and defence lawyers are arguing about who should conduct his psychiatric evaluation.

Jeff Paterson, the project director of Courage to Resist and a member of the Bradley Manning Support Group, said a pre-trial hearing will be held in February or March, the court martial about six months later. If convicted, Manning could face 52 years in prison.

It is not clear whether Assange was a passive recipient of the material leaked by Manning, or a co-conspirator who may have provided him with software that enabled him to download material from a classified military computer. It is believed that the two never met, but communicated via an encrypted message service.

Assange told ABC News that “WikiLeak’s technology (was) designed ... to make sure that we never know the identities or names of people submitting us material.” After the Senate repealed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving openly in the US military last weekend, US media began asking whether Manning was a victim of the discriminatory policy. “Back in Manning’s home town, they’re wondering if his troubled home life and his service in an army that would not allow him to be openly gay had an impact on his decision to leak sensitive documents,” NBC News reported from Crescent, Oklahoma.

On December 15th, a report entitled “The inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention” on the widely read liberal website salon.com quoted “several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention”, including Lt Brian Villiard, a Quantico brig official.

Manning is kept in his cell for 23 hours each day, is barred from exercising in his cell on the grounds he might injure himself, and is under constant surveillance. He has been denied a pillow or sheets, is allowed no access to news or current events programmes during the hour he is taken out, and is regularly administered anti-depressants. In his one hour outside the cell, Manning takes a shower and walks.

“His primary objection to the conditions is that he is being deprived of exercise,” Mr Paterson said. David House, an MIT student who is Manning’s most frequent visitor, says his physical condition is visibly deteriorating because of inactivity and sleep deprivation. Guards wake him up often during the night, ostensibly to be sure he is well. “The conditions of his detention amount to torture,” Mr Paterson said.

Hundreds of new people have contacted the support group in the five days since the conditions of Manning’s imprisonment were revealed. Mr Paterson said the group has raised $130,000. “We are well on the way to being able to cover all his defence expenses.”

To some, like Roger Campbell, a Marine interviewed by NBC in Manning’s home town, the army private is a traitor who should be executed. To the support group, whose advisory board members include the filmmaker Michael Moore, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and former State Department and CIA officials, Manning is a hero.

“Expose War Crime. Free Bradley Manning,” said the placards at a rally at Washington’s Lafayette Park on December 16th. Daniel Ellsberg, now 79, compared his own leaking of the Pentagon’s secret history of the Vietnam War to Manning’s action, calling Manning a “brother” who committed “a very admirable act.” Manning is a dual US and British citizen, because his mother Susan is Welsh.

He had an unhappy childhood in Oklahoma and Wales, where he was reportedly teased for being gay, drinking Dr Pepper, having an American accent and spending so much time in front of the computer. Manning returned from Wales to Oklahoma, but his father kicked him out of the house when he learned he was gay.