Campaigners in the UK are urging the British government to act on behalf of Bradley Manning, the American soldier now in US military custody charged with leaking classified files, on the grounds that his mother is from Wales. It's alleged that most of the significant material revealed in recent months by Julian Assange's famous WikiLeaks website was supplied by Manning.
The Press Association quoted Amnesty International UK spokeswoman Kate Allen yesterday as saying that "Bradley Manning's Welsh parentage means that the UK government should be demanding that the conditions of his detention are in line with international standards and that his 'maximum custody' status does not impair his ability to defend himself".
Allen continued: "We would also like to see Foreign Office officials visiting him just as they would any other British person detained overseas and potentially facing trial on very serious charges."
The campaigning lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, well known for his use of the British courts to pressure the US government regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay – generally on the grounds that they had been legally resident in Britain at some time – is quoted as saying: "I don't care whether he's British or not, human beings have rights wherever they are. [But] the fact that he is a British national does give the Government standing to be involved."
The Guardian reports today that Manning's mother was born Susan Fox in Haverfordwest in 1953. She later married US serviceman Brian Manning, stationed at the time near her home. Their son Bradley was subsequently born in Oklahoma in 1987. Under British law, Manning would have a right to a British citizen's passport should he choose to claim one, as his mother was born in the UK.
Instead of doing so, however, Manning followed his father's footsteps into US military service. In 2009, holding the rank of Private first class in the US Army, he was employed as an intelligence specialist at Contingency Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.
In April 2010, the "whistleblower" website WikiLeaks, helmed by eccentric and – according to mainstream journalists with whom he has since worked – unkempt, smelly activist Julian Assange, got its first really big break as it released previously classified video footage from US attack helicopters above Baghdad in 2007. The footage showed an incident in which the gunships opened fire, killing and injuring Reuters journalists, civilians apparently trying to help the wounded, and children.
The release gained worldwide attention, though the US military did not change the position it had previously reached in its own internal investigation: that the aircrews had acted within their rules of engagement, as US ground troops had just come under heavy attack nearby and the helicopters' fire had struck armed men as well as unarmed bystanders. In the end, nothing happened.
The following month, Manning was arrested by US military police following a tipoff from a former hacker named Adrian Lamo, with whom he had apparently conversed on the internet. Lamo later stated that the young soldier was "basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air". Manning had apparently mentioned specifically not only the gunship videos, but other data he had leaked including large numbers of classified US diplomatic cables.
US military prosecutors later alleged that Manning had transferred classified data onto his personal computer and added unauthorised software to a classified computer system. They also charged him with "communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source"; "disclosing classified information concerning the national defense with reason to believe that the information could cause injury to the United States"; and "exceeding authorized computer access to obtain classified information".
Meanwhile Assange and WikiLeaks have since worked with mainstream media organisations including the Guardian and the New York Times to release more secret US data including the Iraq and Afghanistan "war logs" and the ongoing drip-feed of US diplomatic cables. The Wikileaks saga has seen considerable online scuffling including apparent use of DDoS attacks both by enemies of Wikileaks and its friends – the latter including the anarchic online hacktivista collective Anonymous. Anonymous has apparently informed the Reg that anyone claiming to speak for it and using a personal name, handle or alias is "a fraud, a 13-year-old basement dweller surrounded by crusty socks", though many such persons have briefed other media on the online struggles.
Having been moved from a military custody in Kuwait to the USA, Manning is now held in the US Marine brig (jail) at Quantico, Virginia. The regime under which he has been held is reportedly arduous, and the local commander at one point placed him under suicide watch – a measure which required his jailers to take away all his outer clothing and other items including reading matter for most of the day, and to wake him at frequent intervals when asleep. The suicide watch has now been lifted at the request of US army lawyers, but Manning's confinement is still said to be a severe one, according to visiting friends.
Assange, meanwhile, has departed from his former base in Sweden and is now in the UK. He was arrested by British police following an extradition request from Swedish prosecutors wanting to speak to him regarding allegations of sexual offences by two women there. Assange is now free on bail pending further extradition hearings, staying at the Suffolk mansion of his admirer Vaughan Smith, a wealthy former Guards officer and journalist.
It has been reported recently by American media that despite Lamo's comments, US investigators are unable to prove that WikiLeaks obtained its material from Manning, which if true would present severe obstacles to US criminal proceedings against the website and/or Assange – a course which has been urged by various prominent American figures.
It would appear unlikely that the UK government will move of its own accord with any real vigour to intervene in Manning's case. However if he should gain British-based legal representation – and Stafford Smith's comments would seem to suggest that this is not unlikely – the government could find itself impelled into motion by the courts, as has previously occurred in the case of Gitmo detainee Binyam Mohammed and others with far less claim to the British government's assistance than Manning has.
All that said, Manning would appear much less likely to gain his freedom from any such British intervention than Mohammed and the other secret military/CIA prisoners on whose behalf the UK negotiated with the USA (in some cases well before any outside pressure was applied). As a US serviceman, Manning is properly subject to US military law and he appears to have been legitimately arrested and held throughout within that legal system, unlike the Gitmo prisoners.
If the US military prosecutors can make their charges stick in front of a court-martial, Manning still faces a long sentence – British help or no. Probably the best he can hope for from the gradual, belated shift of attention away from Assange and onto him is, perhaps, an improvement of the conditions under which he is held. ®