Soldier accused of leaks hopes to be freed over ‘denial of rights’
By Kim Sengupta, Defence Correspondent, The Independent, 8 February 2011

Lawyers acting for Bradley Manning, the US intelligence analyst accused of stealing classified diplomatic cables later made public by WikiLeaks, may file for the charges against him to be dismissed on the grounds that the nine months he has been held in solitary confinement breach his constitutional rights. While Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, attended an extradition hearing in London yesterday accompanied by his court of celebrity backers and 100 journalists, 23-year-old Manning spent another day in solitary confinement in his tiny, bare prison cell under conditions which have been described as inhumane and tantamount to psychological torture.

The few visitors allowed access to Private First Class Manning say that he points out that while his own reading material is subject to punitive restrictions, others, including Mr Assange, will profit from books being published about the exposure of the cables.

One of those who visited the prisoner at the end of last month, the computer researcher David House, reported that Pfc Manning has taken great  interest in how new media has driven popular protests in Egypt and Tunisia and led to the fall of regimes.

But friends of the young soldier say that despite such lucid interludes, they are extremely concerned about his mental condition, and report a decline in his mental and physical condition.

US Army Pfc Bradley Manning is being held in solitary confinement

Pfc Manning's attorney, David Coombs, stressed that his client was the only detainee at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia to be held in "maximum" custody, while others were being held in less draconian "medium" detention. The authorities initially said that Manning was being kept in solitary confinement for his own safety, but friends now believe it is being done for punishment.

Legal analysts pointed out the ironic factor that Pfc Manning's deteriorating psychiatric state, allegedly the result of what he has experienced in detention, may undermine a possible US government line of prosecution of Mr Assange. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, is said to be considering what form of plea bargain may be offered to the soldier if he were to incriminate the WikiLeaks chief as a fellow conspirator in disseminating classified information.

Robert Feldman, a US lawyer specialising in security issues, said: "The view was that Manning was in such a fragile state that he may offer something on Assange. But one can turn this around in a courtroom by pointing out that he may say things to placate the authorities in order to get better treatment out of desperation.

"One can also say that if he has indeed been psychologically damaged then just how credible is his evidence."

But Mr Feldman added: "Would Eric Holder let the matter go easily? No. If he does, people like Sarah Palin will tear him to shreds."

An online petition on behalf of Pfc Manning gathered more than 30,000 signatures in two days with his supporters claiming that attempts to find any evidence that he directly supplied material to WikiLeaks have failed. They claim that he remains incarcerated because the US Justice Department fears the wrath of the Republican Right if he is freed.

Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who has been in contact with Pfc Manning and eventually turned him in to the US government, told the FBI that Mr Assange had given the soldier an encrypted internet conferencing service as he was downloading government files as well as a dedicated server for uploading them to WikiLeaks.

Mr Lamo claimed that Pfc Manning had "bragged" about this to him. In one email, now supposedly in the possession of the US Justice Department, the soldier allegedly wrote: "I can't believe what I'm confessing to you... I'm a source, not quite a volunteer, I mean, I'm a high-profile source... and I've developed a relationship with Assange."

The American authorities refused to comment on possible evidence they hold on the case, but legal sources claimed that the email communications between Pfc Manning and Mr Lamo may be " more ambiguous" than was previously thought.

The American website Wired, which claims to have had access to the unpublished Manning-Lamo chat logs, has stated that they have found no information in them pointing to Mr Assange as an instigator of the leaks. Diplomatic sources have also revealed that prosecutors are yet to find a "smoking gun" aimed at Australian- born Mr Assange.

Meanwhile, US Representative Dennis Kucinich, a member of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he will follow up on a demand he has made to Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, asking for access to Pfc Manning to investigate alleged mistreatment.

Mr Kucinich noted at the weekend that the allegations of mistreatment, if true, "could constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution".

In his letter to Mr Gates asking for access to Manning, Kucinich said: "His care while in the custody of the Department of Defense is the responsibility of the US Government, and as a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform it is my duty to conduct effective oversight."