Under pressure from Amnesty International and other human rights groups, the Defense Department has moved Bradley Manning – alleged to have provided Wikileaks with confidential material – from the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Va., to a less restrictive military prison in Leavenworth, Kan. There, he'll have a larger cell, plus several hours a day with the rest of the prison population for exercise, meals, and other activities.
The Pentagon and the Obama administration had come under increasing fire for Manning's being held in isolated confinement for more than nine months without trial, a controversy which cost the State Department spokesman his job.
Manning is a US Army Private First Class charged with providing thousands of classified documents – many of them diplomatically embarrassing – to WikiLeaks. To some he is a traitor, to others a whistle-blowing hero.
Arrested in May 2010, Manning is accused of having "unauthorized possession of photographs relating to the national defense, to wit: a classified video of a military operation filmed at or near Baghdad ... and did willfully communicate, deliver and transmit the video ... to a person not entitled to receive it." He is also accused of "knowingly exceed[ing] his authorized access on a secret Internet Protocol Router network computer."
Twenty-two additional charges were recently added, including “aiding the enemy” – a capital offense.
Until now, Manning had been confined to a 6-by-12 foot cell for 23 hours a day, allowed to exercise or watch television alone in another room for one hour. For a time he was stripped naked at night due to concerns about the possibility of suicide, according to defense officials.
Pentagon officials denied that Manning was being abused since being brought back from Iraq or that his confinement was anything other than standard operating procedure.
But in a letter to President Obama last month, Amnesty International expressed concern that Manning’s near-total isolation under tightly-controlled circumstances over a prolonged period could damage his psychological health which, in turn, “may affect his ability to assist in his defense and thus his right to a fair trial.” Human Rights Watch and other organizations have raised similar concerns.
Speaking at a seminar at M.I.T. in March, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel, described Manning’s treatment as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Within hours after his comments were made public, Crowley resigned his State Department position.
In an open letter recently published in the New York Review of Books, some 300 legal scholars warned that Manning’s treatment at Quantico could be seen as “a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial.”
The conditions under which Manning had been held, they warned, “may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture.”
“If Manning is guilty of a crime, let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law,” they wrote. “But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is no excuse for his degrading and inhumane pretrial punishment.”