2011-04-20 Will Pentagon's Transfer to Ft. Leavenworth Further Isolate Bradley Manning?

The Pentagon’s decision to transfer the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, caught Manning’s defense by surprise. Manning’s move was not reported to his defense counsel until “twenty minutes before the Pentagon’s press briefing.” The way his defense learned of the move was the same way most citizens of the world did: by reading the information that was leaked to the Associated Press just before the briefing. Supporters of Manning are now watching closely, planning to call attention to any new violation of his rights that might occur.

David E. Coombs, Manning's lawyer, says the Pentagon had been thinking about moving Manning for a long time. So, the timing of the move did not surprise Manning’s lawyer David E. Coombs. He blogged:

The defense recently received reliable reports of a private meeting held on 13 January 2011, involving high-level Quantico officials where it was ordered that PFC Manning would remain in maximum custody and under prevention of injury watch indefinitely. The order to keep PFC Manning under these unduly harsh conditions was issued by a senior Quantico official who stated he would not risk anything happening “on his watch.” When challenged by a Brig psychiatrist present at the meeting that there was no mental health justification for the decision, the senior Quantico official issuing the order responded, “We will do whatever we want to do.” Based upon these statements and others, the defense was in the process of filing a writ of habeas corpus seeking a court ruling that the Quantico Brig violated PFC Manning’s constitutional right to due process. See United States ex. rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 74 S.Ct. 499 (1954) (violation of due process where result of board proceeding was predetermined); United States v. Anderson, 49 M.J. 575 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. 1998) (illegal punishment where Marine Corps had an unwritten policy automatically placing certain detainees in MAX custody). The facts surrounding PFC Manning’s pretrial confinement at Quantico make it clear that his detention was not “in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects” as maintained at the Pentagon press briefing.

The Bradley Manning Support Network, which formed to “provide prisoner support” during his imprisonment, put out a press release indicating concern over the move. Kevin Zeese, an organizer with the Support Network, says his “transfer from Virginia to Kansas limits his access to his civilian attorney David Coombs of Rhode Island. It also severely limits visitation opportunities by his East Coast family and friends.” Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist and the Support Network says, “It wasn’t a secret that we were preparing to rally one to two thousand for an upcoming DC-area pre-trial hearing.”

Is it possible he is being moved because the Bradley Manning Support Group has been successfully mobilizing people to protest his detention at Quantico? On March 20, a day that was declared Bradley Manning International Support Day, hundreds turned out for a protest at Quantico, just one day after the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. Reports from Firedoglake indicated “the ratio of police to protesters was disproportionate.” About one hundred regular police officers were present, six on horseback. Dozens of riot police with police dogs and then about a half-dozen military officers with gas masks carrying automatic weapons and tear gas were there. And, prior to the protest, the base the director of operations raised “the specter of infrastructure damage, vandalism or harassment to USMC personnel” through a “Threat Advisory” issued just prior to the planned protest.

Unfortunately for the Pentagon, which probably wishes citizens would just allow proper procedures to unfold without interfering with protests and grassroots campaigns, Iraq War veteran Ethan McCord, one of the soldiers who appears in the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack which Manning allegedly leaked, happens to be a Kansas resident. He has pledged to help build support for Manning while he is in Kansas saying, “Bradley Manning is accused of doing nothing more than heroically telling the truth. I and many others here in Kansas are already planning support actions at Leavenworth.”

The Pentagon denies that this move is in reaction to growing criticism. They claim it has nothing to do with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez being denied a visit with Manning. They suggest all was well at Quantico and that this move is merely because “the Virginia facility does not customarily hold pre-trial detainees for more than a few months" and Manning has been under arrest for nearly a year now.

Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, however, asserts, “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.” He says the Department of Defense has failed to provide “timely answers to even the most basic questions and have thus far refused to allow” him to meet with Manning. This move, Kucinich says, will not stop his effort to get the Department of Defense to grant his “legitimate request” to meet with Manning to fulfill his “oversight responsibilities as a member of Congress and a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.”

Bradley Manning’s detention and the cruel and unusual punishment he is believed to have experienced has earned him quite a bit of worldwide support. Avaaz, a website that employs technology and ethics to organize citizens on pressing issues, has a global petition, “Stop WikiLeaks Torture,” that has over 528,000 signatures. A letter calling attention to how Manning’s detention was likely violating his Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights. They condemned Quantico brig’s procedures that appeared to be disrupting his senses and personality. Of the many signatories, President Barack Obama’s own constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe was one of them.

The Obama Administration once considered Fort Leavenworth as an option for resettling Guantanamo detainees so that the Guantanamo Bay prison could be closed. The maximum-security prison where the detainees were almost settled is not likely to be where Manning is relocated; the Pentagon says he will likely end up in the medium-security facility. Still, there’s a bit of a quirk of fate that Manning would end up being held in close proximity to prison cells, which almost housed terror suspects.

The relocation of the detainees was to be the Obama Administration’s solution to a key problem: the US currently holds detainees without evidence to support their prosecution but finds them to be too dangerous to release. Nearly fifty detainees have been given this designation and it is likely that these individuals could have been moved to Fort Leavenworth to be illegally held without due process.

Manning faces over twenty charges, some which involve the leaking of information that has not surfaced or been released by WikiLeaks. It is unclear what kind of case the Pentagon has against Manning. Manning has seen and read information the Pentagon does not want people to read (except for those in the military and government who are granted access). If released, he would have an authority to go after Pentagon practices and procedures and US conduct in wars that few are able to achieve. Which might leave one to wonder if, even without a good case, Manning might just languish in a cell indefinitely in Fort Leavenworth.

The “learned helplessness” techniques have already been used on Manning at Quantico; will the violations of due process and the right to a trial, which detainees at Guantanamo face, escalate at Ft. Leavenworth?

Through his alleged leaking of classified information, Bradley Manning has exposed how many US systems work. The world should not be surprised if his detention exposes more abhorrent aspects of US military operations and calls more attention to how the powerful in the US can abuse the civil and military legal system.

The following video is from a support rally for Bradley Manning and information freedom held at City Hall in NYC on April 7, 2011.