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When Wikileaks released a total of 477.000 secret US records of military incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American government went into a panicked frenzy – how did this happen? Among the sensitive material was the highly controversial recorded killing of 12 people – including two journalist – by US helicopter force in Baghdad, 2007. The video went around the world and became a major political embarrassment to the American forces in the region.
On May 26, 2010, US Pte First Class Bradley Manning was arrested and later charged on July 5 under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UDMJ) for stealing classified data and leaking it to Wikileaks between November 2009 and May 2010. Manning was exposed after a chat exchange between him and former hacker Adrian Lamo where he confessed to parts of his actions and expressed his distress over the “mess” he had created. Upon his arrest, he was held at a military jail in Kuwait but in July 2010, the 23-year-old Private was moved to the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia and classified as a ‘maximum custody detainee’.
The documents believed to be leaked by Manning continued to be published after his arrest but Wikileaks denied any direct contact with the detained Private. Regardless, the US government launched an intensive investigation into its founder, Julian Assange. According to the New York Times in December 2010, federal prosecutors were seeking to build a case on the notion that the Wikileaks leader had encouraged and ‘coached’ Pte Manning to extract the classified documents. According to Lamo, Manning had claimed to be a high-profile source for Wikileaks but following his arrest, the organisation stated that they had no way of verifying if Manning was in fact the source of the military documents. Assange told msnbc TV in December 2010 that the allegations of a Wikileaks/Manning conspiracy was “absolute nonsense” and by the new year, several online sources seemed to agree that links between the army private and Assange were questionable.
This changed nothing for Manning – by March, 2011, the US Army had filed another 22 counts against him in relation with the leakage of more than 720.000 secret diplomatic and military documents, according to the BBC. The Iraq War Logs is considered the greatest data leak in US military history and from a legal point of view, Manning’s fate is sealed.
However, there are still humanitarian concerns. In June 2010, the Bradley Manning Support Network was founded to promote justice in the process and their foundation has been highly critical of the conditions of his detention. According to reports dating back to 2010, Private Manning had been subjected to harassment and ritual humiliation while being held at Quantico. Accounts of his mistreatment, delivered through his lawyer, gave rise to strong criticism – both public and political.
“The military and Administration has been shocked by the support Bradley Manning has garnered globally – specifically at the gates of Quantico, Virginia. Last month, 500 supporters rallied near the Marine brig where PFC Manning has been held since August 2010. It wasn’t a secret that we were preparing to rally one to two thousand for an upcoming DC-area pre-trial hearing,” explains Jeff Paterson, the Project Director at Courage to Resist and member of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
On April 12, Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, told the press that he had been blocked from an unmonitored meeting with Manning as part of his investigation into the rumoured torture. US officials were not going to let Mr Mendez speak to Manning without officials present but the UN investigator said that a monitored conversation would be counter to his mandate, according the the BBC.
On April 19, the US administration transferred Manning to Kansas – a move viewed as the result of the criticism of his mistreatment. Dennis Kucinich, a congressman from Ohio, commented on the decision that, “Any move of PFC Manning does not change the underlying fact, which has not been disputed by the Department of Defense, that he has been held under conditions which may in fact constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in violation of the 8th amendment.”