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Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks martyr?

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND   |   March 13, 2011 at 3:30 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, languishing naked for a while in solitary confinement at the U.S. Marine Brig in Quantico, Va., after allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of confidential files subsequently posted on WikiLeaks, has become something of a martyr for his supporters.

Despite warnings from the Obama administration of the irreparable damage those postings have done to U.S. interests, Manning supporters appear to be growing online.

Some facts: Manning is 23, 5-foot-2 and about 105 pounds. He holds dual U.S.-British citizenship; though Manning was born in Oklahoma, his mother is English, and he spent years in Wales as a teenager.

He allegedly used blank discs labeled "Lady Gaga" to download classified material.

He no longer is obliged to sleep naked.

Those who support Manning as a victim do so in no uncertain terms with a variety of arguments.

Under the headline "Why Bradley Manning is a patriot," writer and New York attorney Chase Madar strongly defends Manning's alleged behavior. Madar's piece first appeared on TomDispatch, but was reposted on the CBS News Web site in early February.

Madar wrote the conditions under which Manning is being held "have been sufficiently brutal for the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture to announce an investigation." The classified records "allegedly downloaded by Manning revealed clear instances of war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," widespread torture committed by Iraqis with full U.S. knowledge "and the massive Iraqi civilian death toll caused by the American invasion," Madar said.

"Pfc. Manning has been treated not as a whistle-blower, but as a criminal and a spy," he added.

Citing the Nuremberg trials, Madar said a "long line of (U.S.) Supreme Court cases, from Mitchell vs. Harmony in 1851 all the way back to Little vs. Barreme in 1804, established that soldiers have a duty not to follow illegal orders. In short, it is a matter of record and established precedent that these Nuremberg Principles have meant something in our courts. (Manning's) will not be the first court-martial to apply these principles, fought for and won with American blood, nor will it be the last."

Another online Manning supporter is John Whitehead, president and founder of the civil liberties non-profit Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va. Whitehead posted an essay headlined "Private Bradley Manning: A victim of the military empire?"

"There can be no doubt that Manning's inhumane treatment by the U.S. government is intended to send a clear warning to all those who would challenge the military empire -- 'DON'T EVEN CONSIDER IT,'" Whitehead wrote, also in early February. The slight Manning, an intelligence analyst, "has been held in maximum solitary confinement (his escape would supposedly pose a national security risk) at the Marine Corps Brig ... since July -- treatment normally reserved for the most violent or dangerous of criminals."

Manning is "imprisoned in a windowless, 6-by-12-foot cell containing a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet, Manning has been kept under suicide and/or prevention of injury watch during his incarceration, largely against the advice of two forensic psychiatrists," Whitehead said, and under the suicide watch was confined his cell for 24 hours a day and "stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear." Even his prescription eyeglasses were taken away, Whitehead said.

He was ordered to sleep without his underwear, brig officials told the media last week.

Yet another online Manning supporter, author Barton Kunstler, writing in The Huffington Post in early March defended the prisoner in a piece titled, "Bradley Manning's abuse: Army's dishonor, Obama's shame."

U.S. investigators have been having a hard time connecting Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Manning, essential to prosecuting Assange in the United States -- he's about to face sexual assault charges in Sweden.

The lesbian Web site Autostraddle suggests there is a connection between Manning's purported treatment and the prosecution's problems.

"Maybe this isn't because, as Manning's supporters have claimed, he's being pressured to implicate Assange as a conspirator in his betrayal of the state ...," the site said. "Maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that our government regards its own privacy as its No. 1 priority, especially when the secrets revealed might lead to it being held accountable for the lives of brown people in poor countries."

In January, Amnesty International joined the debate on the prisoner's treatment, urging U.S. officials "to alleviate the harsh pretrial detention conditions of Bradley Manning."

In a letter, the human rights organization asked U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review the conditions of Manning's incarceration.

"We are concerned that the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the U.S. authorities," said Susan Lee, Amnesty International's program director for the Americas.

"Manning has not been convicted of any offense, but military authorities appear to be using all available means to punish him while in detention. This undermines the United States' commitment to the principle of the presumption of innocence."

Sophie Elmhirst, an assistant editor of the New Statesman, a leftist publication in London, posted her own take last week, and appears to be one of the more even-handed observers.

Far from a connection being established between Manning and Assange, "Assange himself says they have never met (if it cannot be proven that Manning leaked data directly to Assange, then the U.S. authorities will have no case to prosecute or extradite the WikiLeaks founder)," she wrote.

Elmhirst wrote vividly of Manning's chilling detention, but she also cites Manning's need for attention and the ease with which he allegedly stole classified documents while serving in Iraq.

"According to chat logs of alleged conversations between Manning and a fellow hacker, Adrian Lamo (later published incompletely by Wired), the huge download of information from government databases was easy to execute," Elmhirst wrote. "Manning appears to explain how he was able to copy data from the classified network using unmarked CDs."

Manning says in the chat logs, ''Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public."

Lamo notified the authorities, and Manning was arrested.

Despite all the online angst over Manning's incarceration, the Pentagon says he's being treated no differently than anyone else.

"None of the conditions under which Pfc. Manning is held are punitive in nature," Marine Col Dave Lapan, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense, told United Press International by e-mail. "All are based on his particular circumstances as a maximum-security, pretrial detainee. Pfc. Manning is housed in [a] one-man cell at Quantico, like all others in maximum or medium security at the facility. He has rights and privileges to food, mental health counseling, medical care, recreation, television, visitors, outside mail, and regular communications with his attorney."

Lapan acknowledged that Manning had been forced to sleep in the nude for his "personal safety" but said that condition has changed.

"In recent days, as the result of concerns for Pfc. Manning's personal safety, his undergarments were taken from him during sleeping hours," Lapan said. "Pfc. Manning at all times had a bed and a blanket to cover himself. He was not made to stand naked for morning count but, on one day, he chose to do so. There were no female personnel present at the time. Pfc. Manning has since been issued a garment to sleep in at night. He is clothed in a standard jumpsuit during the day."

Moreover, Lapan said, "The circumstances of Pfc. Manning's pretrial confinement are regularly reviewed, and complies in all respects with U.S. law and Department of Defense regulations."

Manning, "like all other pretrial confinees, is regularly monitored by, and has ready access to, mental health and medical professionals."

In contrast to Manning's online supporters and the Marine Corps' by-the-book approach to his incarceration, top U.S. officials haven't been shy about decrying Manning's alleged actions.

"This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after the WikiLeaks story broke. "It is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity. ... It puts people's lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems."

While Clinton blasted the effects of Manning's alleged actions, her spokesman last week blasted the conditions under which he is being held.

P.J. Crowley, spokesman for Clinton, called the Defense Department's treatment of the accused WikiLeaks leaker "stupid."

For its part, the U.S. Army in early March added 22 charges against Manning in addition to the charge of aiding the enemy. The new charges "allege that he introduced unauthorized software onto government computers to extract classified information, unlawfully downloaded it, improperly stored it and transmitted the classified data for public release and use by the enemy," an Army statement said.

One side of the Manning-WikiLeaks controversy that hasn't received much attention: More troubling than official indignation is the effect the WikiLeaks disclosure may have on intelligence-sharing as U.S. officials try to prevent future terror attacks.

Last week, the Web site Security Management said experts are worried the WikiLeaks affair will undermine information-sharing.

"A law requiring the intelligence community to create the type of global information sharing environment recommended by the 9/11 commission envisioned a world in which a junior military intelligence analyst in Iraq would have access to all the information relevant to his mission: historical background, human and signals intelligence, even diplomats' perspectives on the country's political circumstances. Synthesized, the data could help detect emerging threats before they materialized," writer Joseph Straw said.

"What they did not envision," he added, "was how that world of shared information would facilitate one of the largest insider information thefts in U.S. government history, but that may be exactly what happened if in fact, as alleged, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning stole documents including roughly 260,000 classified State Department cables."

That information sharing environment, "never fully embraced, in particular by the intelligence community -- is now viewed with renewed skepticism by member agencies throughout the government," he said.

So far, The Christian Science Monitor said last week, "WikiLeaks has released more than 700,000 sensitive or classified documents about U.S. military and diplomatic activity -- 92,000 on the war in Afghanistan, 392,000 on the Iraq war, and now nearly 250,000 diplomatic cables that U.S. officials say are damaging to foreign relations and intelligence operations."

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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