One year in jail, Bradley Manning is a hero

Blowing the whistle on war crimes is no crime.

On 26 May, Private Bradley Manning will have been held in US military detention without trial for one year. He faces a battery of charges, including "aiding the enemy" – a crime punishable by execution under US law.

What was Manning's crime? As well as allegedly releasing classified diplomatic cables that exposed the hypocrisy of top US officials, it is alleged that he blew the whistle on war crimes and cover-ups by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. If this is true, the man is a hero. He is a defender of democracy and human rights. His actions are based on the principle that citizens have a right to know what the government is doing in their name.

Manning should not be in prison. The charges against him should be dropped. Instead, the US should put on trial those who killed innocent civilians and those who protected them.

Even many Americans agree that Bradley Manning is a true patriot, not a traitor. He reveres the founding ideals of the US – an open, honest government accountable to the people, which pursues its policies by lawful means that respect human rights. At great personal risk, he sought to expose grave crimes that were perpetrated and then hidden by the US government and military.

These are the characteristics of a man of conscience, motivated by altruism. Any misjudgements he made in his alleged release of certain documents are far outweighed by the positive good overall. Thanks to Manning, we, the people, know the truth.

"Cruel, inhuman and degrading"

Critics say that WikiLeaks was sometimes indiscriminate and even reckless in its release of certain documents. This may be true in a small number of cases. Regardless, these releases were done by WikiLeaks, not by Manning. He allegedly passed the information in good faith. He did not publish the documents. WikiLeaks did. Manning cannot be blamed for any shortcomings in the way WikiLeaks released the information.

For nine months, 23-year-old Manning was imprisoned in harsh, inhuman conditions at the Quantico marine corps base in Virginia.

He was subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and many extreme deprivations, which amounted to pre-conviction punishment. This mistreatment was condemned by more than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars.

The abuse of Manning constituted illegal "cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment", contrary to the UN Convention Against Torture and to the Eighth Amendment to the US constitution. It is arguable that President Obama should be indicted by the International Criminal Court. He bears direct personal and legal responsibility for the mistreatment of Manning. He knew about it, publicly endorsed it and did nothing to stop it.

After worldwide protests, Manning was recently transferred to a standard medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where his treatment has significantly improved.

He is being held on the, as yet, unproven allegation that he leaked classified US military and diplomatic documents that were subsequently released by WikiLeaks. These documents exposed US war crimes, as well as US foreign policy dishonesty and duplicity.

Covering up slaughter

Manning is a humanist and a man with a conscience. When he discovered human rights violations by the US armed forces and two-facedness by the US government, he was shocked and distressed. He became disillusioned with his country's foreign and military policy, believing it was betraying its professed democratic and humanitarian mission.

The abuse that first triggered Manning's disillusionment came when he was posted to Iraq in October 2009 as an intelligence analyst. He was appalled to discover US military collusion with the repression of dissent in Iraq; in particular "watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police . . . for printing 'anti-Iraqi' literature".

The offending literature exposed corruption in the US-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. When he complained that US forces should not be assisting in suppressing free speech and peaceful protest, he was told to keep quiet and that the US armed forces in Iraq should be doing more to silence opponents of the Maliki regime.

He was further outraged to discover top-secret video footage of a US Apache helicopter attack that gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians in 2007, including two Reuters journalists and men who had gone to the aid of the wounded. Two children were also gravely injured when the US helicopter opened fire on their van. The video records US soldiers laughing and joking at the killings, and also insulting the victims.

The video of the massacre can be seen here.

This slaughter had previously been the subject of a cover-up by the US armed forces, which claimed dishonestly that the helicopter had been engaged in combat operations against armed enemy forces.

It is only (allegedly) thanks to Bradley Manning that we now know the truth about this killing of innocent civilians – and about the killings of hundreds of other civilians in unreported and undocumented incidents.

Manning is a US citizen but also a British citizen through his Welsh mother. Since he has been in detention, he has received no British consular support. Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, have failed to help him. They have never spoken publicly against his maltreatment nor, as far as we know, made any private appeals to the US government and military to halt the abuse that Manning suffered at Quantico.

So much for the coalition's professed commitment to human rights and civil liberties.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner.

TAKE ACTION – What you can do:

1. Write to Bradley Manning. Send him your support: PFC Bradley Manning 89289. Fort Leavenworth Military Detention Centre, 830 Sabalu Road, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, KS 66027, USA.

2. Sign the petition in support of Bradley Manning.

3. Ask your MP and MEPs to urge the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to ensure a British consular visit to Bradley Manning, and to press the US government to drop all charges and release him. You can email your MP and MEPs direct through this website.

4. Phone or write to the US embassy in London – 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE (tel: 020 7499 9000).

5. Write to President Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC20500, USA.

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.