Five months ago, on April 22, 2011, over 400 citizens converged on Quantico Marine Base to protest the pre-trial conditions of alleged Wikileaks whistleblower US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning. Manning was arrested on May 26, 2010, on a U.S. military base in Iraq on suspicion of giving classified material to the website WikiLeaks.
No Speedy Trial-Manning still in pre-trial confinement after 560 days
Manning still is in pre-trial confinement, 560 days after he was arrested.
Manning was charged on July 5, 2010, with transferring classified materials on his personal computer, and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source. An additional 22 charges were added on March 1, 2011, including wrongfully obtaining classified material for the purpose of posting it on the Internet knowing that the information would be accessed by the enemy; the illegal transmission of defense information; fraud; and aiding the enemy. In April, 2011, he was found fit to face a court martial and currently awaits the first hearing.
Conditions during pre-trial confinement at Quantico Marine Base
As soon as he was transferred from Kuwait to the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Virginia in July 29, 2010, Manning was held in solitary confinement and forced nudity. He was classified as a “maximum custody detainee” and held under a “Prevention of Injury” designation for nine months until he was transferred in April 2011. A Prevention of Injury order is just short of suicide watch and means that guards check the cell every five minutes with the prisoner not allowed to sleep during the day. Manning was not allowed to sleep between 5 am (7 am at weekends) and 8 pm, and if he tried to, was made to stand or sit up. At Quantico he was detained in a 6 x 12 foot cell, with no window, and only a bed, toilet and sink. He ate his meals in his cell. Manning could walk outside his cell only while shackled and for only one hour. He was allowed to keep only one book and one magazine in his cell.
He was required to remain visible to the guards at all times, including at night, which meant that he had no sheets and no pillow except one built into his mattress. Until March, 2011 he was required to sleep in boxer shorts, and had experienced chafing of the skin from the heavy blanket which was designed so it could not be shredded. On March 2, 2011, Manning was informed that an Article 138 complaint filed in January by his lawyer, that requested that he be removed from maximum custody and prevention-of-injury watch, had been denied. This resulted in him being required to sleep without clothing and present himself naked outside his cell for morning inspection, which his lawyer described as ritual humiliation. From March 10 onwards he was given a wrap-around smock with Velcro fasteners to sleep in. In response to the incident, the brig psychiatrist classified him as at “low risk of suicide.”
Public outcry against conditions of Manning’s confinement
Amnesty International called the conditions “harsh and punitive.” In April, 2011, 295 scholars, including legal scholars and philosophers signed a letter saying the conditions the Marines kept Manning in amounted to a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In March, 2011, State Department spokesperson and retired US Air Force Colonel P.J. Crowley resigned from his government position after he stated, “What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defense.” Crowley’s statement forced President Obama to address for the first time the issue of Manning’s handling at Quantico marine base in Virginia. Obama defended the way Manning is being treated, saying he had been reassured by the Pentagon that his confinement was appropriate.
President Obama has prejudiced the case against Manning by his statement that Manning “broke the law.” At a fundraiser in San Francisco, California in April, 2011, in a video recording, Obama responded to a questioner, “I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source,” “That’s not how … the world works. If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law … We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate … He broke the law.”
Manning transferred to an appropriate pre-trial confinement facility one month after Quantico arrests
After the publicity concerning Manning’s treatment, the rally and the arrests, one month later on April 20, 2011, the Pentagon transferred him to a pre-trial confinement portion of a medium-security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At Fort Leavenworth, the prevention-of-injury order was lifted, Manning’s clothes were not removed at night, and he has a cell with a large window with natural light and a normal mattress. He now can have contact with other pre-trial detainees, write whenever he wants, and keep personal objects, such as books and letters, in his cell.
Manning will turn 24 on December 17, 2011.
Quantico arrests on March 20
Following a rally across the road from the Marine Base, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg led a small group of veterans and military mother to the front gate of the base and four veterans and one military mom across the road to place flowers at the replica of the Iwo Jima memorial, located on public property to the side of the gate. Police had blocked off the memorial and forced the representatives to put flowers on the pavement, which the reps felt was an act of disrespect for veterans. When re-crossing the road, several of these reps sat down in the intersection. Traffic had already been blocked in both directions by the police.
The reps were quickly joined in the intersection by hundreds of citizens. After about 30 minutes, the police ordered everyone out of the intersection. 34 remained in the intersection and were arrested in a unique snatch and grab ninja turtle line of Virginia State troopers. Several persons, including myself, were knocked down by the troopers after they stood up for their arrest.
The arresting officers were from both Prince William County and the Virginia State police resulting in a variety of charges and a variety of ways of resolving the arrests. Some were allowed to pay a fine and depart, while others were arraigned and ended up in several court sessions.
Trial for Arrests on November 7, 2011
Since the March 20, 2011 arrests, some defendants pled guilty and paid fines, one refused and spent a day in jail, and others had their charges dismissed. The dismissal of the charges came about in an agreement that the defendants would give up their rights to a jury trial, and four of them would go forward in a bench trial before Prince William County, Virginia Circuit Judge Mary Grace O’Brien.
Finally, on November 7, 2011, the four defendants were tried in Circuit Court in Manassas, Virginia. Virginia pro bono attorneys John Zwerling and Cary Citronberg represented Jean Athey and Colonel Ann Wright. Iraq War veteran Helen Gerhardt, from Pittsburgh, and Baltimore peace and justice activist Max Obuszewski represented themselves as pro se defendants. Three of the defendants were facing a charge of malicious obstruction of traffic, and I was charged with “unlawful assembly.”
Charge of “remaining at place of riot or unlawful assembly after warning to disperse,” dismissed
The charge of “remaining at place of riot or unlawful assembly after warning to disperse,” against me was dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien who ruled that there was insufficient evidence that I had used “force or violence” in remaining at the site of the protest. Use of “Force or violence” used by a defendant is an element of the “crime” that must be proved by the prosecution. Instead, the prosecutor had argued that the Virginia statue meant that if the police had had to use “force or violence” to remove me from the site of the arrest, the elements of the charge had been met. Our lawyers were successful in convincing the judge that the prosecutor had turned the law upside down-and the judge dismissed the case against me.
3 out of 34 convicted of “malicious and careless” obstruction of traffic
After a spirited defense by the pro se defendants and our lawyers, Judge O’Brien declared that the 3 defendants were guilty of obstruction of traffic. However, in announcing her findings of guilt, O’Brien concurred that the case “does bring in larger questions” about the motivations of the demonstrators.
Although she agreed that these larger issues were relevant, she felt that the issues in appropriate treatment of Bradley Manning in pre-trial confinement “would not be appropriate for me to consider.”
She disregarded the fact there was no evidence confirming the guilt of Athey, that Gerhardt had no intent to maliciously obstruct, that citizens had a Nuremberg Obligation to challenge government abuse or as Obuszewski observed, “I could not obstruct traffic as the police closed the road.”
The 3 defendants were charged $15 each in fines and another $177 each in court costs.
Trial gets publicity for Bradley Manning’s case
The actions of the 400 citizens in gathering at the gates of the Quantico Marine Base to protest the conditions in which Bradley Manning was placed for over a year in during pre-trial confinement gained international publicity for Manning. The trial renewed that publicity.
As Manningcontinues to wait for his Article 32 hearing and court-Martial, citizen activists are watching the actions of the government and will continue to protest when necessary for the proper treatment of a soldier who has not been convicted of any crime.
Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden
On November 1, 2011, a British court ruled that Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, can be extradited to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual abuse made against him by two women there last year. Citing comments by conservative politicians, including the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who said Assange should be hunted down as “an anti-American operative,” Assange’s lawyers argued that if he were extradited from Sweden to the United States, he could face the death penalty over the leaking of classified American documents. In addition, Mr. Assange has indicated that he believes “world powers might be behind the sexual abuse charges, seeing them as a way of silencing him and halting embarrassing leaks.”
US Court says Twitter must release data on Icelandic member of Parliament who is a Wikileaks supporter
Additionally, on November 10, 2011, a US judge ruled Twitter must release the details of the account of Icelandic MP and former WikiLeaks volunteer Birgitta Jonsdottir and those of two other Twitter users linked to WikiLeaks, Seattle-based WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum and Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp. Jonsdottir learned in January that her Twitter account was under scrutiny from the Justice Department because of her involvement last year with WikiLeaks’ release of a video now called “Collateral Murder” that shows a US military helicopter shooting two Reuters reporters in Iraq. Jonsdottir believes the US authorities want to use her information to try and build a case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
In October, 2011, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which represents Members of Parliament from 157 countries, unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. Justice Department’s subpoena for their Twitter accounts. The IPU said the move threatened free speech and suggested it could violate Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression.
Army finally talking about an Article 32 Pre-Trial Hearing
On November 10, 2011, the Army revealed that it is finally preparing to hold an Article 32 pre-trial hearing that for the first time will disclose the government’s case in detail against Manning.
A spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington at Fort McNair, which has jurisdiction over the proceedings, said the investigative hearing will be held “in the Washington area.” She said the hearing will be open to the media, but asked that names of military officials involved not be disclosed.
The spokeswoman said that Manning’s defense teams’ request for information “was taking awhile because parts and pieces of the information belong to a lot of different agencies. So I know there was a lot intense coordination amongst everyone with all the different agencies.”
No date has been set for the Article 32 hearing and the sudden media announcement may be another stalling tactic.
Independent UN expert on torture calls for unrestricted access to Manning and other US detainees
On July 12, 2011, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated that it was “vital for him to have unmonitored access to Bradley Manning.”
“I am assured by the US Government that Mr. Manning’s prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico, however, in addition to obtaining first hand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid.,”
At the request of Mr. Méndez and after several meetings, the US Department of Defense said it would allow him to visit Mr. Manning, but warned that the conversation would be monitored.
Mendez said such a condition violated long-standing rules that the UN applies for prison visits and for interviews with inmates everywhere in the world. On humanitarian grounds and under protest, Mr. Méndez, through Mr. Manning’s counsel, offered to visit him under these restrictive conditions, an offer Manning declined.
“The question of my unfettered access to a detainee goes beyond my request to meet with Mr. Manning – it touches on whether I will be able to conduct private and unmonitored interviews with detainees if I were to conduct a country visit to the United States,” said Mr. Méndez.
Additionally, Mr. Méndez has requested several times since his appointment in November, 2010, that the US Government allow him to visit the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, the US government has not responded to his requests.
Call Army and demand unmonitored access to Bradley Manning for Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture
After waiting months for the announcement of Bradley Manning’s Pretrial Hearing dates which have been continually delayed by the U.S. Military, as well as a response to their whitehouse.gov petition, which reached the necessary threshold of signatures almost a month ago, the Bradley Manning Support Network is calling for friends and allies everywhere to remind important decision-makers in the military and State Department that Bradley Manning supporters that the world is watching how the United States treats US military personnel in pre-trial confinement. http://www.bradleymanning.org/events/call-in-to-the-white-house-and-military-to-demand-un-access
Each day of the week November 14-18, 2011, the Bradley Manning Support Network is encouraging people to call the Army to demand that Juan Mendez be allowed an unmonitored visit with Bradley.
Please call: Office of the Secretary of the Army, Office of Public Affairs, Lt. Col Anne Edgecomb, (703) 697-3491, Anne.firstname.lastname@example.org and,
This article was originally published by Common Dreams.