Bradley Manning and the military’s perverted sense of justice
Private Bradley Manning, the young soldier accused of providing embarrassing U.S. state secrets to WikiLeaks, was on Thursday formally charged with 22 counts. The charges come after Manning’s extraordinary 22-month pre-trial detention, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. The most serious charge he faces is “aiding the enemy,” which carries a possible sentence of life in military custody. Manning declined to enter a plea at the hearing, and despite his attorneys’ attempts to set a trial date for April, it looks like the trial won’t begin until August.
His lawyer David Coombs has argued that Manning’s constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated by the prolonged military detention, filing a motion to dismiss on these grounds in January. On his blog, Coombs noted that the right to a speedy trial – enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution – applies to military personnel as well as civilians:
The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is applied to military jurisprudence through two separate and distinct provisions — Rule for Court-Martial (R.C.M.) 707 and Article 10 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) (10 U.S.C. § 810). While both provisions seek to protect the same constitutional right, and while there is considerable overlap between the two, each provision has separate rules regarding when the protections attach and when they are breached.
It could also be pointed out that Manning’s extended pre-trial detention violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which contains the following provision:
Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.
Manning’s case has garnered substantial international attention, with demonstrations being held on his behalf from Canada to England to Hungary to Australia. Earlier this month, members of the Icelandic parliament nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In January 2011, while Manning was still being held in prolonged solitary confinement, Amnesty International sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, calling Manning’s detention “unnecessarily harsh and punitive” and in “breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties.” According to Amnesty:
The conditions under which PFC Manning is held appear to breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR monitoring body, has noted in its General Comment on Article 10 that persons deprived of their liberty may not be “subjected to any hardship or constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty; respect for the dignity of such persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons …”.
In an open letter to President Obama, members of Congress and top officials at the Pentagon last November, more than 50 members of the European Parliament expressed concern “that the US army has charged Bradley Manning with ‘aiding the enemy,’ a capital offence that is punishable by death,” and that the United States government has refused to allow the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture to meet privately with the imprisoned veteran.
The letter states:
We are troubled by reports that Mr Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and other abusive treatment tantamount to torture. And we are disappointed that the US government has denied the request of the United Nations special rapporteur on torture to meet privately with Mr Manning in order to conduct an investigation of his treatment by US military authorities.
We call upon the United States government to allow Juan Méndez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, to conduct a private meeting with Bradley Manning, the accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower. Mr Méndez has made repeated requests to American officials to meet privately with Mr Manning in response to evidence that he was subjected to abusive confinement conditions while he was detained at a facility in Quantico, Virginia. Mr Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day during the eight months he was incarcerated at that location. It appears that he was at times forced to sleep and stand at attention without any clothing. His legal counsel has documented additional incidents which indicate the possibility of other rights violations.
The letter also criticized the military for conducting an internal investigation that was marked by bias and conflicts of interest, especially the fact that its findings of wrongdoing were overturned by a military prison official who was directly implicated by the report:
Hundreds of US legal scholars have signed an open letter to the Obama administration, arguing that the conditions of confinement endured by Mr Manning at Quantico may have amounted to torture. Following worldwide calls for an end to the abusive treatment, Manning was moved to a facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where his conditions are said to have improved. The US military conducted an internal investigation into the allegations of mistreatment at Quantico. The preliminary results of this investigation found that Mr Manning was improperly placed on “prevention of injury” status, against the recommendations of qualified medical personnel. However, these findings were ultimately overturned by a military prison official who was implicated by the report. Therefore, the US military’s internal investigation has been compromised by clear conflicts of interest. This so-called “prevention of injury” status was the justification for a number of extraordinary measures, such as denying Mr Manning comfortable bedding and not allowing him to exercise.
By preventing UN officials from carrying out their duties, the United States government risks undermining support for the work of the United Nations elsewhere, particularly its mandate to investigate allegations of torture and human rights abuses. In order to uphold the rights guaranteed to Bradley Manning under international human rights law and the US constitution, it is imperative that the United Nations special rapporteur be allowed to properly investigate evidence of rights abuses. PFC Manning has a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. People accused of crimes must not be subjected to any form of punishment before being brought to trial.
The British government has also protested Manning’s treatment. British diplomats raised concerns last year to the State Department that his human rights were being breached.
British Labour MP Ann Clwyd objected to the military’s conduct because of the message it sends to the rest of the world about what kind of treatment the U.S. government thinks is acceptable for imprisoned people throughout the world.
[This case] matters in places where human rights are not nearly so well observed. People will pay attention in China and in Russia – and in Libya, where we want to be on the side of those fighting for freedom from state repression. And most of all in Afghanistan: it matters to those UK and US service personnel fighting in Afghanistan what kind of image Britain and the US have in the world.
Manning, an Iraq War veteran, is accused of leaking thousands of classified documents, some of which provide clear evidence of U.S. violations of international law, including spying on UN officials in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as well as the commission of brazen war crimes in Iraq, as revealed in the “Collateral Murder” video.
Despite the extensive evidence of crimes allegedly provided by Manning, he is the only individual facing criminal charges related to the revelations.
Click here to get involved with the campaign to save Bradley Manning.