Preliminary court-martial proceedings against United States soldier Bradley Manning have shown the US government’s strong desire to make an example of him.
Manning is the military analyst accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables and US military reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
Rather than seek to investigate the serious war crimes revealed in the leaks — and prosecute those responsible — the US government has persecuted Manning.
Manning has been charged with 22 offences including “aiding the enemy”. He faces life in prison. Military prosecutors have accused Manning of indirectly aiding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with the release of the war logs, The Guardian said on March 15.
Manning has faced harsh conditions in prison since his arrest in May 2010. He was subjected to solitary confinement for 11 months under the guise of “harm prevention”, where he was denied exercise and proper bedding and was forced to stand naked at attention for hours on end.
Manning’s treatment was widely believed to be aimed at inducing him to incriminate WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange.
Associated Press reported on March 15 that United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez said Manning’s treatment had violated his presumption of innocence and “his right to physical and psychological integrity”.
Mendez told The Guardian on March 14: “I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture.
“If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”
The US has repeatedly denied Mendez his request for “a private and unmonitored meeting with Mr Manning to assess his conditions of detention”.
Manning was formally charged on February 23, 18 months after he was first jailed.
At a pre-trial hearing on March 16, Judge Denise Lind rejected eight “vital witnesses” requested by Manning’s defence team, Middle-east-online.com said on March 17.
Manning’s civilian lawyer, David Coombs, wished to question government and military officials involved in classifying the documents that Manning allegedly leaked, to challenge the prosecutors’ claim that the leak had damaged the “national security” of the US.
Lind ruled their testimony was “not relevant”. She ruled they were “not reasonably available” to testify, despite the fact they were never asked and that the trial will start in June at the earliest.
Coombs also called for the case to be dismissed due to the US government’s failure to hand over case documents to the defence team, the Washington Post said on March 15. He said the government had “hopelessly” messed up the document turnover in the nearly two years Manning had been in jail.
Kevin Zeese of the Bradley Manning Support Network said on March 15: “The government is fighting Coombs every inch of the way, and it feels like the judge really wants to rule against Manning.”
Manning declined to enter a plea and will appear in court again on April 23.
At the same time as US authorities are pushing ahead with their prosecution of Manning, the alleged whistleblower has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Icelandic parliamentarians.
A letter from Icelandic MPs from The Movement political group to the
Nobel Peace Prize Committee explaining the reasons for the nomination said: “We have the great honour of nominating Private First Class Bradley Manning for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Manning is a soldier in the United States army who stands accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
“The leaked documents pointed to a long history of corruption, war crimes, and imperialism by the United States government in international dealings. These revelations have fuelled democratic uprising around the world, including a democratic revolution in Tunisia.
“According to journalists, his alleged actions helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements, shed light on secret corporate influence on our foreign policies, and most recently contributed to the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all US troops from the occupation in Iraq.”
In October last year, Manning won The Guardian‘s online poll for who should win the Nobel Peace Prize — with almost 40% of all votes.
Meanwhile, Assange awaits a ruling in his appeal against extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations. Despite not being charged with any crime, he has been under house arrest for 15 months.
If he is extradited to Sweden, it is likely Swedish authorities will turn Assange over to the US. WikiLeaks released leaked emails from private spy firm Stratfor last month that revealed the US has a secret sealed indictment against Assange, likely to prosecute him for espionage in collaboration with Manning.
WikiLeaks declared on March 18 that it would stand candidates in the next Australian federal election and that Assange planned to stand as a candidate for the Senate. However, Crikey.com.au said on March 18 that Assange may not qualify to run due to his extended absence as an Australian resident.
If Assange was able to run, such a campaign could highlight WikiLeaks’ call for transparency in government and be a focus point for opposition to government and corporate bids to silence WikiLeaks.
It could also call into question the Australia-US alliance, given the Australian government’s complicity in the US’s pursuit of Assange.