US Army analyst Bradley Manning – accused of leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks – is today facing a court for the first time since his incarceration in May 2010.
The 23-year-old is facing 22 charges connected with possessing and distributing 720 secret military and diplomatic documents.
Today’s hearing will not decide Manning’s innocence or guilt, but whether he will stand trial.
Recently, Manning received support from as far away as Wales, where his mother lives in Haverfordwest in the extreme west of the country.
During Manning’s earlier confinement in Quantico in Virginia, before his transfer to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas last year, he is said to have been held in solitary for 23 hours a day and “often made to sleep without clothing or bedding.”
Early in December, two European Parliament members (MEPs) from Wales added their names to an open letter protesting about Manning’s treatment.
An open letter to the Obama administration signed by the MEPs and others said:
We call upon the United States government to allow Juan Méndez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, to conduct a private meeting with Bradley Manning, the accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower. Mr Méndez has made repeated requests to American officials to meet privately with Mr Manning in response to evidence that he was subjected to abusive confinement conditions while he was detained at a facility in Quantico, Virginia.
Mr Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day during the eight months he was incarcerated at that location. It appears that he was at times forced to sleep and stand at attention without any clothing. His legal counsel has documented additional incidents which indicate the possibility of other rights violations.
Manning’s mother, Susan, expressed her own concerns in April (before her son was transferred).
The Haverfordwest-based Western Telegraphquoted her as saying: “I was very distressed by seeing Bradley. Being in prison, and being held in the conditions which he is, is having a damaging effect on him physically and mentally.
“I am worried that his condition is getting worse. I would like someone to visit him who can check on his conditions.”
Small and bespectacled
Today, Manning was “reported to be sitting in the courtroom dressed in military khaki and wearing black-rimmed glasses,” according to the BBC.
Mark Mardell, the BBC’s North America editor, is quoted as saying: “It is the first time since his arrest that Private Bradley Manning has been seen in public. He’s flanked on one side by his civilian lawyer, and on the other by two military lawyers. He is small, bespectacled, and sits quietly listening. He briskly answers a few routine questions about whether he understands his rights and is happy with his lawyer. ‘Yes, sir,’ he says.”
The hearing could last five days. During it, lawyers for both sides will make their initial cases and cross-examine witnesses.
“Defence lawyer David Coombs began proceedings by switching the focus onto investigating officer Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, who he described as ‘biased’,” says the BBC.
Almanza has refused to accept all but two of 38 defence witnesses, which, says Coombs, means the defence cannot make an adequate case.
Another BBC correspondent, Paul Adams, says the defence is likely to make the case that any alleged leaks did not cause much harm, and their release was in the public interest.
Manning is also charged with “aiding the enemy.” While this could technically carry the death penalty, it’s thought that prosecutors will seek a prison sentence.
WikiLeaks has said in a statement:
“If it is the case that Bradley Manning is indeed the source of this and other WikiLeaks materials, Manning would have single-handedly changed hundreds of thousands of people’s lives for the better.
“This material has contributed to ending dictatorships in the Middle East, it has exposed torture and wrongdoing in all the corners of the world and it has held diplomatic bodies and politicians accountable for the words, deals and pacts held behind close doors.”