Protests mark Bradley Manning’s 1,000th day of pre-trial imprisonment

1000 days

Protests took place in dozens of cities across the world yesterday to mark the 1,000th day that accused WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning has spent in prison without a trial. Manning was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to WikiLeaks, including evidence of war crimes and other violations of international law by the United States.

Despite failing to provide any evidence of how the information disclosed by Manning has put any lives in danger or concretely damaged national security, the U.S. government has charged him with “aiding the enemy,” a charge akin to treason which carries a potential death sentence. Prosecutors however have said they will not seek the death penalty, instead seeking life in prison for the young Army private.

Manning has been held in detention for nearly three years despite military law setting a maximum of 120 days of detention before a trial. His pre-trial punishment is also a grave breach of his rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States has subscribed. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has held that confinement of more than six months is incompatible with article 9 (3) of the ICCPR, which states:

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.

In providing practical guidelines for the use of pre-trial confinement, the UN’s Handbook of International Standards relating to Pre-Trial Detention recommends that governments establish a maximum period of time during which a person may be detained without trial, and if a prisoner’s detention exceeds that amount of time, the he or she shall be released. The Handbook notes, however, that any guideline on maximum pre-trial detention must abide by international standards.

Manning’s supporters note that as someone motivated by his conscience to expose evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. military, he should be considered a prisoner of conscience and released. Indeed, the government’s own evidence against him consists mainly of online chat logs between Manning and his friend Adrian Lamo (who ultimately betrayed him), chat logs which reveal that Manning’s motivations for leaking the government’s secrets were purely altruistic:

(12:15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
(12:16:38 PM) bradass87: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…
(12:17:47 PM) bradass87: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
(12:21:24 PM) bradass87: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, summarized the situation well in an article yesterday:

America, Bradley Manning stood up for your right to know what the government does in your name and with your tax dollars. The truth was ugly, eye-opening, embarrassing for the Bush and Obama administrations alike. It also came at a high cost: As of today, Bradley Manning has spent over 1,000 days in prison without trial. He was tortured. And if the U.S. government gets its way, he will have a trial marred by secrecy and spend the rest of his life locked up.

He also notes that the government is doing all it can to ensure that Manning is convicted, even if that means abrogating his right to a fair trial. In particular, the government is not allowing the soldier to explain his motivations in defending his actions, which could make it nearly impossible for him to prove that he never intended to “aid the enemy.”

The government is trying to charge Manning under the Espionage Act, accusing him of aiding Al Qaeda. They are subjecting him to incredible pressure to implicate his publisher, WikiLeaks, and they are making not just his legal defense but also media coverage of his case practically impossible.

Walking into the pre-trial hearings has been like waking up in a Franz Kafka novel: endless proceedings, one’s legal defense made impossible. This is quickly becoming the government’s playbook for whistleblower cases. Jeremy Hammond’s case is a concurrent example. Aaron Swartz’s a tragic one.

And so, despite the excellent work David Coombs is doing to defend Manning, I wonder if anything short of massive mobilization by the American people will change this brave soldier’s fate. How can his lawyer defend him when the key evidence the government is supposedly using to claim Manning harmed U.S. national security can be withheld? How can he show Manning did not intend to “aid the enemy” when the judge will not allow him to present evidence about Manning’s motives for releasing the information? It’s outright absurd.

At a pre-trial hearing in January, a military judge ruled that Manning had been subjected to illegal pretrial punishment while held in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia. Col. Denise Lind found that during the nine months he spent in solitary confinement in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., the treatment he received was “more rigorous than necessary.”

She credited a total of 112 days toward any prison sentence Manning receives if convicted. Instead, his supporters call for the soldier’s immediate release.

Manning’s lawyer David Coombs points out that although prosecutors were supposed to arraign Manning within 120 days, they took well over 600. Coombs has also showed substantial periods of their inactivity and needless delay, despite a legal requirement to remain actively diligent throughout the proceedings.

As the Bradley Manning Support Network puts it, “Manning’s due process rights have been clearly violated, and the only legal remedy is to dismiss charges.”

To support the efforts to free Bradley Manning, click here.

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