Last week all charges against Bradley Manning were preliminarily referred to court martial. Manning, the 24-year-old army private, will face 22 charges of leaking documents and videos to Wikileaks. A final decision on the court martial is likely to be made this week, although there is a possibility that the decision will be passed further up the chain of command.
Manning was arrested Kuwait in July 2010 and has been in custody without trial since then.
The investigating officer who recommended the court martial, Lt Colonel Paul Almanza, is an employee of the Justice Department which is also aggressively pursuing action against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Manning’s lawyer and supporters argued that this entailed a conflict of interest. The Bradley Manning Support Network notes that, "he [Almanza] was also criticised for allowing all of the military’s witnesses and evidence to be presented, while prohibiting all but two of the defense’s witnesses from testifying, as well as evidence that could exonerate the accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower."
Manning’s lawyer David E. Coombs reports that he has issued two separate deposition requests to allow the testimony of several witnesses for the defence. The call for witnesses in Manning’s Article 32 hearing was effectively refused. Coombs writes, "In the government’s response, it opposed the presence of all defense requested witness (with the exception of ten witnesses who were also on the government’s witness list)."
If a full military trial gets the go ahead, it will take place in the next three to five months. Manning will remain in custody in the interim. The stakes are high for Manning. The Army’s news release puts it bluntly: "If convicted of all charges, Manning would face a maximum punishment of reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade, E-1; total forfeiture of all pay and allowances; confinement for life; and a dishonorable discharge."
Manning has already endured what many commentators regard as unlawful punishment. He has been held in conditions that are essentially punitive without facing trial. This open letter written by Manning in March 2011 provides details of his situation in Quantico Brig, where he was held until April 2011. US legal scholars Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler and a cohort of their colleagues last year rebuked Barack Obama for his suggestion that the conditions under which Manning was held were acceptable. They wrote, "He is currently detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral."
Manning was moved from Quantico Brig in Virginia to another facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas last year. This prolonged incarceration without trial has attracted much criticism. As Ackerman and Benkler write, "If Manning is guilty of a crime, let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law. But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is no excuse for his degrading and inhumane pretrial punishment."
The Manning case has been highly divisive. Tiffany Madison of the Washington Times summarises the positions taken for and against Bradley Manning in the US military and policy establishment in this piece. In spite of the polar positions taken on Manning’s situation, she argues the case provides an opportunity for a more productive public dialogue:
"Instead of allowing politics and ideology to divide us, the American people should use this opportunity not to characterise PFC Bradley Manning as either an idealistic whistleblower or narcissistic turncoat, but to evaluate our relationship with our own government. Rarely do we have such an opportunity, where the classified information is already public record, for an honest, open dialogue regarding the national-security state. And whether it is still operated by the citizen, for the citizen, both civilian and military."
Chase Madar of Mother Jones is one of Manning’s supporters. He argues that the private deserves a presidential medal, not a prison cell. Madar puts Manning in a tradition of American whistleblowers that includes one of the Marine’s most outspoken defenders, Daniel Ellsberg. "At immense personal cost, Bradley Manning has upheld a great American tradition of transparency in statecraft and for that he should be an American hero, not an American felon."
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