Military prosecutors have said they will seek life imprisonment for Bradley Manning, the US soldier charged with leaking state secrets to the WikiLeaks website. Newsnight’s Matt Prodger has been to the US to find out more about a case which is dividing opinion there.
He is being held at the maximum security jail on the Quantico US military base in Virginia – kept in a single cell 23-hours-a-day, isolated from other prisoners, and not allowed to exercise.
Few people have seen him since his arrest. One of the handful who has is David House, a computer researcher and friend of the soldier, who has visited him 16 times.
Mr House said that meetings with his friend happen in a visitation room in which the pair is separated by a pane of bullet-proof glass.
“Going in to see Bradley you can tell when they’re about to bring him out because a call goes out throughout the brig: ‘brig’s going into lockdown’, and they repeat it several times, you hear doors shutting and then from far away you hear this rattling of chains. Very ghostly,” Mr House said.
“The door opens and this diminutive figure, only five feet three, is led in and sat on a metal stool. And he’s done up in chains from his feet, looped through a leather belt around his waist to his hands… And he’s sat down.”
Amnesty International has described the treatment of Pte Manning, whose mother is Welsh, as “unnecessarily harsh and punitive” and has called on the British government to intervene.
Mr House backed this version of events, saying that as well as being held in isolation 23-hours a day with the exception of visiting hours, Pte Manning is been denied access to writing materials, newspapers and is forcibly prevented from exercising.
He also claimed that Pte Manning is “made to stand nude in front of other prisoners in the mornings” and “mistreated by his marine captors after media events or after protests happen at the brig”.
The Pentagon has said that Pte Manning is being treated in much the same way as any other maximum security prisoner deemed to be at risk to themselves.
He is on Prevention of Injury Watch which allows the imposition of measures for his own safety, such as the removal of his clothes at night, in favour of a sleeping smock.
Pte Manning, his lawyer and several military psychiatrists who have seen him have denied that he presents such a risk.
When asked whether he thinks Pte Manning is being punished prior to his trial and if so why, Mr House said that his friend was the victim of a co-ordinated pressure campaign:
“I think that all of this together is not just a confluence of random events, but actually is a concerted effort on the part of the brig and perhaps the US government to get Bradley Manning to undergo psychological and emotional devastation ahead of his trial,” he said.
Earlier this month, US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley was forced to resign after he said that what was being done to Pte Manning by colleagues at the Department of Defence was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.
However, Mr Crowley did say that Pte Manning was “in the right place”.
Mr Crowley’s former boss, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the disclosure of classified documents on the WikiLeaks website as a threat to national security.
Pte Manning’s friends and supporters say the threat to national security is why he is being treated so harshly, and there has also been speculation that it is part of an attempt to make him confess that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange helped him extract the classified information.
Mr Ellsberg knows what it is like to be accused of treachery for leaking secrets; in 1971 he leaked the Pentagon Papers, which showed the US government had lied about the Vietnam War.
“He said ‘I’m ready to go to prison for life or even be executed to get this information out to the American public and to the world’,” Mr Ellsberg said of Pte Manning. “He saw America supporting corrupt dictatorships all over the world and thought Americans should know that – but also the people of those areas should know.”