On 29 May, Private Bradley Manning will have been held in USmilitary detention without trial for one year. A 23 year old openly gay man, he faces a battery of charges, including “aiding the enemy” – a crime punishable by execution under US law.Manning’s crime? It is alleged that he blew the whistle on war crimes and cover ups by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. If this is true, the man is a hero. He is a defender of democracy and human rights. His actions are based on the principle that citizens have a right to know what the government is doing in their name. Bradley should not be in prison. The charges against him should be dropped. Set him free. Instead, put on trial those who killed innocent civilians and those who protected the perpetrators.

Bradley Manning is a true patriot, not a traitor. He reveres the founding ideals of the US – an open, honest government accountable to the people, which pursues its policies by lawful means that respect human rights. At great personal risk, he sought to expose grave crimes that were perpetrated and then hidden by the US government and military. These are the characteristics of a man of conscience, motivated by altruism. Any misjudgements he made in the alleged release of certain documents are fair outweighed by the positive good overall. Thanks to Manning, we, the people, know the truth.

One aspect of Bradley Manning’s commitment to human rights is his active support for LGBT equality. He has participated in Gay Pride marches and campaigned against the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ restrictions on US gay military personnel. In 2008, he attended a rally in New York to oppose attempts to ban same-sex marriage in California.

For nearly a year, Manning was imprisoned in harsh, inhuman conditions at Quantico marine corps base in Virginia. He was subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and many extreme deprivations, which amounted to pre-conviction punishment. After worldwide protests, he was recently transferred to a standard medium security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where his treatment has significantly improved.

Manning is being held on the as yet unproven allegation that he leaked classified US military and diplomatic documents that were subsequently released by Wikileaks. These documents exposed US war crimes, as well as US foreign policy dishonesty and duplicity.

A senior United Nations representative on torture, Juan Mendez, reprimanded the US government in April 2011 for not allowing him to meet Bradley Manning in private and in confidence. This is the kind of censure the UN normally reserves for authoritarian regimes: http://tiny.cc/nq3mq

Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said: “I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr Manning.”

My friend US congressman Dennis Kucinich and a representative from Amnesty International were likewise refused permission to visit Manning.

Also in April, more than 250 of America’s most eminent legal scholars signed a letter protesting against the mistreatment of Manning during the nine months he was detained in Quantico military brig, arguing that his “degrading and inhumane conditions” were illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture: http://tiny.cc/bs95c

The open letter by these scholars states:

“For nine months, Manning has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day. During his one remaining hour, he can walk in circles in another room, with no other prisoners present. He is not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, but must answer the question “Are you OK?” verbally and in the affirmative every five minutes. At night, he is awakened to be asked again “Are you OK?” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket so that the guards cannot see his face. During the past week he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes.”

The letter goes on to question the US government’s motives for detaining Manning:

“The administration has provided no evidence that Manning’s treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates. Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.”

The list of scholars who signed the letter included Barack Obama’s own constitutional law professor, Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America’s foremost liberal authority on constitutional law.  He taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.

You can read this Guardian report about the mistreatment Manning suffered at Quantico: http://tiny.cc/junb2

In summary, the Guardian report states that was being kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, in a windowless room 12′ x 6′, and shackled hand and foot when he was transferred to a room where was allowed only to walk around in a circle. He was fed a daily diet of antidepressant pills which disoriented him, forced to stand naked, forbidden to exercise in his cell, and woken if he attempted to sleep in the daytime. Manning was continually subject to what is called “maximum custody”, and also to a so-called “prevention of injury” order, which among other things, deprived him of his clothes at night and also of normal sheets and bedding in favour of a blanket he describes as being like the lead apron used when operating x-ray machines. He was allowed no personal possessions.

This abuse of Manning constitutes illegal “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”, contrary to the UN Convention Against Torture and the 8th Amendment to the US constitution. It has been condemned by many civil liberties and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International: http://tiny.cc/7sr4w

The International Criminal Court should commence legal proceedings against the head of the US government and military commander-in-chief, President Obama.  He bears direct personal and legal responsibility for the mistreatment of Manning. He knew about it, publicly endorsed it and did nothing to stop it.

The transfer of Manning from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth – and the subsequent significant improvement in the conditions under which he is being detained – occurred just days after the legal scholar’s letter was publicised, and appeared designed to preempt plans by Manning’s lawyers to mount a legal challenge to the harsh conditions of his detention at Quantico. It also followed an online petition by avaaz.org which gathered half a million signatures in one week in early April.

Private Manning, a US military intelligence analyst, was arrested in Iraq following the release by Wikileaks of video footage of a US Apache helicopter attack that gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians in 2007, including two Reuters journalists and men who had gone to the aid of the wounded. Two children were also gravely injured when the US helicopter opened fire on their van. The video records US soldiers laughing and joking at the killings, and also insulting the victims.

The video of the massacre can be seen at: www.collateralmurder.com

This slaughter had previously been the subject of a cover-up by the US armed forces, which claimed dishonestly that the helicopter had been engaged in combat operations against armed enemy forces.

It is only (allegedly) thanks to Bradley Manning that we now know the truth about this slaughter of innocent civilians – and about the killings of hundreds of other civilians in unreported and undocumented incidents.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which exposed US lies and criminality in Vietnam, has hailed Manning as a hero.

Manning is a humanist and a man with a conscience. When he discovered human rights violations by the US armed forces and duplicity by the US government, he was shocked and distressed. He became disillusioned with his country’s foreign and military policy; believing it was betraying the US ideals of democracy and human rights.

The abuse that first triggered Manning’s disillusionment was when he was posted to Iraq in October 2009 as an intelligence analyst. He was shocked to discover US military collusion with the repression of dissent in Iraq; in particular “watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police….for printing ‘anti-Iraqi’ literature.” The offending literature exposed corruption in the US-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When he complained that US forces should not be assisting with the suppression of free speech and peaceful protest, he was told to shut up and that the US armed forces in Iraq should be doing more to silence opponents of the Maliki regime.

Manning is a US citizen but also a British citizen via his Welsh mother. Since he has been in detention, he has received no British consular support. Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg have failed to help him. They have never spoken publicly against his maltreatment or, as far as we know, made any private appeals to the US government and military to halt the abuse that Manning suffered at Quantico. So much for the coalition’s professed commitment to human rights and civil liberties.

Manning’s mother requested assistance from UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to ensure a British consular visit to her son. This request has been ignored: http://tiny.cc/4e732

TAKE ACTION – What you can do:

1.    Write to Bradley Manning. Send him your support: PFC Bradley Manning 89289. Fort Leavenworth Military Detention Centre, 830 Sabalu Road, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, KS 66027, USA. 

2.    Sign the petition in support of Bradley Manning: www.bradleymanning.org 

3.    Ask your MP and MEPs to urge the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to ensure a British consular visit to Bradley Manning, and to press the US government to drop all charges and release him. You can email your MP and MEPs direct via this website: www.writetothem.com 

4.    Phone or write to the US Embassy in London – 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE – 0207 499 9000

5.    Write to President Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC20500, USA

6.    Please tweet this message: 

If Bradley Manning blew the whistle on US war crimes, he’s a hero. Free him. Sign the petition: www.bradleymanning.org  #bradleymanning