9 Essential Questions About Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks
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Both the award-winning documentary film director Michael Moore and the celebrated whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg have called 22-year-old U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning a hero in the fight for free information. Ironically Manning's own fate is presently unknown, since much information leading to his arrest is being withheld. Since his detention in May last year, Manning has been in solitary confinement under conditions criticized for being inhumane and torturous. According to his lawyer, Army court-martial defense attorney David E. Coombs, Manning is only allowed to leave his cell one hour a day and has no contact with other prisoners.
Even in his cell, his activities are strongly restricted. The light is kept turned on 24 hours a day, he is prohibited from possessing personal items or exercising, and he has no access to basic items such as sheets or pillows. What is the reason for this treatment? Manning is accused of being WikiLeaks' source for the 250,000 U.S. State Department cables published since November and for being the source of the "collateral murder" video, showing civilians and two Reuters reporters being killed in a 2007 U.S. air raid in Baghdad. He is not yet convicted of any charges, and as it lingers in the air his fate raises a number of questions:
Why is Manning kept in solitary confinement?
The official justification for Manning's pretrial conditions is his classification as both Maximum Custody Detainee, the highest level of military detention, and POI (prevention of injury) Detainee. Both labels have been criticized as exaggerated. Salon's Glen Greenwald points to the fact that Manning, since his arrest, has been a model detainee without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems and Manning's lawyer denies that he is potentially suicidal. But considering the harsh pretrial conditions, who would not be suicidal after a while? In an open letter send to Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this week, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) points to the severe deleterious effects of solitary confinement and suggests that, rather than a response to a risk, Manning may be the victim of political retribution. Julian Assange, in an interview with Sir David Frost, claims that the torturous conditions of Manning's imprisonment are in fact intended to coerce Manning into testifying against him. If true, Manning is a brick in a larger plot to crack down on WikiLeaks. Let us scroll the history back some six months.
What made Manning leak the secret information?
Manning has faced accusations of recklessly threatening homeland security. In an online chat with the fellow hacker Adrian Lamo (we will get back to him in a minute) Manning expresses a motivation for the leak grounded in deep concern with the atrocities his country has committed. In the chat logs Manning is said to have stated if i were someone more malicious -- i could've sold [the information] to russia or china, and made bank. Instead he uploaded it on WikiLeaks, because it belongs in the public domain --information should be free & god knows what happens now -- hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms -- if not & we're doomed. It was these statements that made Daniel Ellsberg call Manning his new hero, and assuming the chat logs are to be trusted, Manning should be considered a whistleblower of our time. Now the other key figure in the story:
Who is Adrian Lamo?
Lamo is a hacker, convicted of a felony in 2004, for hacking into the New York Times. In the hacking community Lamo is notorious for his dishonesty, compulsive self-promotion and mental instability. In April 2010 Lamo voluntarily committed himself to a psychiatric hospital for a week. Lamo declared himself a journalist and at the time Manning is said to have engaged in the chat with Lamo he was working with a group called Project Vigilant, whose self-proclaimed mission was to inform federal authorities of crimes taking place over the Internet. There is no evidence suggesting Lamo and Manning knew each other prior to the chats, which raised the question: