Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Friday, 25 March 2011

Is Bradley Manning being punished before trial?

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.

Friend describes visiting Bradley Manning in jail and the conditions there

For eight months Private Bradley Manning has been awaiting trial over 34 charges relating to the leaking of 720,000 diplomatic and military documents.

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.

Chained hand and foot

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.

PJ Crowley and Hillary Clinton
PJ Crowley was forced to resign after criticising Manning's detention

"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.

In a letter released by his lawyers, Pte Manning claims he is routinely stripped each night and his prescription glasses are confiscated, leaving him with limited vision.

Clothes removed

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".

Adrian Lamo on why he turned Bradley Manning in to FBI

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.

National security

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".

The problem is you don't understand the context and the milieu in which the information has been classified. And so something that looks to you as being simple or improperly classified may result in all kinds of harm that you can't anticipate because you don't have the whole picture
Mark Rasch, former head of the US Justice Department's Computer Crime Unit

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.

The man who turned Pte Manning in to the authorities, Adrian Lamo, said that he for one would like to see Mr Assange in custody:

"I regret that he [Bradley Manning] is sitting in a cell while Julian Assange is free," he said.

Death threats

Adrian Lamo, a convicted computer hacker, turned informant, is at the heart of the prosecution case against Pte Manning. It was to him that Pte Manning allegedly confessed in conversations via text-based instant messaging that he had been gathering and leaking classified information whilst working at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.

Mr Lamo reported to the FBI that Pte Manning had told him during online chats in May 2010 that he had downloaded material and passed it to WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange
Some say Manning is being abused to make him accuse Assange

"The reason that I took the information to the military authorities was that I had become convinced that I was dealing with the real thing as a result of statements that Pte Bradley Manning made to me that I have authenticated with a former special agent in army counter-intelligence," Mr Lamo said.

Mr Lamo, who is currently in hiding after getting death threats because of his decision, said:

"I acted out of what I believed and continue to believe to be the good of the many rather than the good of Bradley Manning."

It is the good of the many which has driven Pte Manning's actions too, according to one of his staunchest supporters, Daniel Ellsberg.

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."

Big picture

However, Mark Rasch, former head of the US Justice Department's Computer Crime Unit and current cyber security director for CSC, said that while people with access to sensitive information, like Pte Manning, may believe that what they are doing is in the public interest, they are not equipped to make that decision:

If you give up secrets that impact our military when they are operating in a war zone then you get what you get. You have to be punished. You can't just go 'here's all our secrets' and expect nothing to happen
Former soldier Shelly Otto

"The problem is you don't understand the context and the milieu in which the information has been classified. And so something that looks to you as being simple or improperly classified may result in all kinds of harm that you can't anticipate because you don't have the whole picture," he said.

That is certainly the view of Shelly Otto, a former soldier, whose husband is a marine at the prison where Pte Manning is being held. She sees it as most Americans do:

"I think if you give up secrets that impact our military when they are operating in a war zone then you get what you get. You have to be punished. You can't just go 'here's all our secrets' and expect nothing to happen."

Watch Matt Prodger's full Newsnight report on Bradley Manning on the BBC iPlayer.



FEATURES AND ANALYSIS
Paul Conroy Homs 'another Srebrenica'
Journalist Paul Conroy on Homs bombardment and his escape

Hip replacement X-ray Hip implants concerns
Problems with metal-on-metal hip implants 'ignored'

General Dhao Gaddafi's last days
General Mansour Dhao on last days in Sirte and bid to flee

Pit bull terrier Kennel costs
3.7m police bill for kennelling of suspected dangerous dogs

Egyptian women Blighted lives
Female genital mutilation still rife in Egypt despite ban

VIDEO
Italian Senator Lucio Malan Italian senator: 'We were not informed of Nigeria rescue bid'

For sale signs Why are mortgage rates rising and will more lenders follow?

Newsnight's Tim Whelwell on the tail of an 'election bus' in Russia Evidence of voters 'bussed in' to boost Russian vote

David Miliband David Miliband on Vladimir Putin's 'cold' political style

The streets of Sirte Mark Urban on the 'bitter ironies' of Sirte destruction

ANALYSIS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific