The Bradley Manning Trials

U.S. Army private first class Bradley Manning (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images).

U.S. Army private first class Bradley Manning (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images).

Today I am going to observe the pre-trial hearings in US v. Manning that are taking place at Fort Meade, Maryland this week. Bradley Manning is a 25-year-old Private First Class in the United States Army who was arrested in May 2010 while stationed with the US army in Iraq. He has been in US military custody since his arrest. Manning was charged with 22 counts of misconduct – the most serious of which is “aiding the enemy”- connected to the release of various US Military videos, intelligence reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic cables on the website Wikileaks.

He is currently held in a medium security prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and faces a military court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryland. In early 2011, Amnesty International called on the US Government to end the unnecessarily harsh and punitive conditions under which Bradley Manning was held in pre-trial detention at the Quantico facility in Virginia.

We understand that his conditions improved considerably after he was transferred to a medium security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in late April 2011. Instead of being isolated, Bradley Manning is allowed to interact with other detainees, receive approved visitors, as well as receive mail from anyone while detained at Fort Leavenworth.


London Olympics Further Tainted by Dow Chemical

Activists and survivors of the 1984 Bhopal disaster

Activists and survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster demonstrate. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Since we last told you about Dow Chemical’s controversial Olympic sponsorship, things seem to have only gotten worse for Dow Chemical – from a public relations perspective anyway. Along with Dow Chemical’s horribly insensitive comments, the increased media attention has only revealed additional ethically troubling business practices.

The International Olympic Committee and games’ organizers continue (for now) solidly and uncritically back Dow as a sponsor, despite harsh criticism from Amnesty and others. But if Dow Chemical was hoping that it might benefit from the benevolent glow of the Olympic spirit of international goodwill, the past few weeks have not been kind.


One of Guantanamo's Forgotten Prisoners

Shaker Aamer protest in London

Shaker Aamer was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007. (Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Shaker Aamer, a former UK resident of Saudi descent, has been held without charge at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 10 years. He was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007 but is still inexplicably incarcerated more than four years later.

Shaker was detained by irregular Afghan forces in Jalalabad in December 2001, shortly after the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. By his own account he had been in Afghanistan working for a Saudi charity and no compelling evidence refuting this contention has been presented.


Guantánamo’s Children: The Wikileaked Testimonies

By Almerindo E. Ojeda of The Guantánamo Testimonials Project

The Guantanamo detention facility at sunrise, January 7, 2011.

A couple of months ago, the transparency organization Wikileaks began to release Detainee Assessment Briefs and other classified documents for all 779 Guantánamo prisoners.

As a consequence of these wikileaked releases, military documents now in the public domain acknowledge that fifteen children were imprisoned, at some time or another, at Guantánamo.

This would be three more than the twelve the State Department acknowledged to the public after the earlier report on the subject put out by the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, and seven more than the eight the State Department reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.


Doubling Down On Failure At Guantanamo

There are still 172 detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention centre © Amnesty International

Released just as President Obama seems to have washed his hands of closing Guantanamo, a new batch of leaked government documents provide fresh insight into just how inadequate, iniquitous and ultimately counterproductive, the US foray into indefinite detention has been.

The new document cache consists of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) – essentially case summaries – produced by intelligence analysts at Guantanamo between 2002 and 2009 that were first leaked to Wikileaks and then by someone in the Wikileaks community to the press.

The picture of Guantanamo that emerges from these new documents is of an arbitrary review process, operating from a presumption of guilt not innocence, thrown together on the fly, and overseen by individuals with so little understanding of cultural nuance that they might as well have been drafted in from Mars.

The New York Times points out that the qualification “possibly” appears 387 times about intelligence used in the files, with the qualifiers “unknown” and “deceptive” appearing 188 times and 85 times respectively. Further proof that the intelligence business is anything but a precise science.


Bradley Manning Still Held In Harsh Conditions

US Private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking information to Wikileaks. © APGraphicsBank

Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking information to Wikileaks, is still being held in unnecessarily harsh conditions despite the fact that he is an untried prisoner.

We are urging US authorities to review Bradley Manning’s situation. Under international standards, prisoners who have not yet stood trial should be treated in accordance with their right to the presumption of innocence.

In letters to US President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Amnesty International has called for measures to ensure that Manning is no longer held in 23-hour solitary confinement and subjected to other harsh conditions.

Manning’s requests to have his custody assignment downgraded have been denied despite his reportedly presenting no problems to staff or inmates and having a clear disciplinary record while in custody.


Inhumane Treatment of WikiLeaks Soldier Bradley Manning

US Private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking information to Wikileaks. © APGraphicsBank

US authorities must alleviate the harsh pre-trial detention conditions of Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking information to Wikileaks.

The US army private, 23, has been held for 23 hours a day in a sparsely furnished solitary cell and deprived of a pillow, sheets, and personal possessions since July 2010.

Amnesty International last week wrote to the US Defence secretary, Robert Gates, calling for the restrictions on Bradley Manning to be reviewed. In the same week, the soldier suffered several days of increased restrictions by being temporarily categorized as a ‘suicide risk’.

We’re concerned that the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities.  Manning has not been convicted of any offense, but military authorities appear to be using all available means to punish him while in detention. This undermines the United States’ commitment to the principle of the presumption of innocence.

Last Tuesday, Manning was placed on ‘suicide risk’, which resulted in him being stripped of his clothes apart from underwear, and the confiscation of his prescription glasses for most of the day, which Manning says left him in “essential blindness”.


Rep. King's Terrorism Problem

Congressman Peter King

Yesterday, with the opening of the 112th Congress, Representative Peter King (R-NY) succeeded Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MI) as the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

In the past few weeks Congressman King, no stranger to exaggerated sensationalism, has attracted a great deal of media attention for labeling Wikileaks a terrorist organization (a stretch by any definition of the term) and calling for the prosecution of the New York Times under the Espionage Act.

Congressman King has said that his first order of business as Chair will be to hold hearings on Muslim-American radicalization.

This has caused more than a little concern in the Muslim community since King made headlines in 2004 by channeling Senator Joseph McCarthy in an interview with Sean Hannity in which he claimed – without any apparent factual basis whatsoever – that 85% of the mosques in America were controlled by “Islamic fundamentalists” and went on to describe the members of these mosques as “an enemy living among us.”

Can you tell the difference?

I suppose we shouldn’t be terribly surprised by Congressman King’s antics, as he has never been particularly good at spotting real terrorists. King was a high profile supporter of the Provisional IRA for almost twenty years telling a political meeting in Nassau County, New York, in 1982:

“We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.”

In the course of more than three decades of violence in Northern Ireland the Provisional IRA is variously estimated to have killed between 1,700 and 1,900 people and to have injured thousands more.

These attacks included the bombing of a Remembrance Sunday (Veteran’s Day) Service in Enniskillen in which eleven members of the congregation died, the bombing of a MacDonald’s in Warrington that killed two small children, and the bombing of the London department store Harrods, which claimed six lives, including that of a United States citizen.


Q&A: Wikileaks and Freedom of Expression

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to receive and impart all kinds of information © Alex Milan Tracy/Demotix

International controversy over the Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables continues to rage. In recent days, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard have barred their users from donating to Wikileaks, alleging that the site may be engaged in illegal conduct.  Amnesty International examines some of the human rights issues at stake.

Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?

The US government has indicated since July 2010 that it is conducting a legal investigation into the actions of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange for distributing secret documents.  A range of US political figures have called for a criminal prosecution of Assange.

According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest.


Failed accountability, WikiLeaks show true cost of war

The release by WikiLeaks late last week of 391,832 secret documents on the Iraq War has been said to be “…the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.” The revelations emerging from these documents showcase the culture of impunity that has plagued this war effort, including the U.S. government’s failure to adequately address rights violations linked to the corporations and contractors used to fight our wars.

As an August 22, 2006 report released by WikiLeaks stated


More than one year later, on September 16, 2007, Blackwater (now renamed Xe) guards, still benefiting from huge government contracts, shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad. This is just one example of many that can be found in the leaked documents.

It is clear that the record of unjustified killings and violence by PSCs is far beyond what had previously been released to the public. As it stands, none of these incidents has resulted in prosecution, and even those cases that have moved forward have resulted in dismissal or failure to indict.  Recently, a case against Andrew J. Moonen, a former Blackwater guard who was accused of killing a guard assigned to an Iraqi VP while wandering drunk in the Green Zone, was dropped by the Justice Department, citing difficulties in obtaining evidence in war zones, and the granting of immunities to the defendant by American officials at the scene.

Even the most public of cases, including that against Blackwater guards for the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, have resulted in dismissals in US courts.  This culture of impunity extends across PSC activities.  On September 11th, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a 2 to 1 ruling dismissed a lawsuit brought against CACI International that alleged CACI personnel participated in torture and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

By creating complex legal hurdles, issuing on the scene immunities, and failing to ensure an environment of transparency, oversight and accountability, we are shielding the true costs of our wars, not only financially but in human terms as well.  The release of these documents showcases just how terrible that cost is.

Let’s continue to call for accountability in conflict zones. Tell President Obama and Congress to respect human rights and counter terror with justice.