Legal scholars attack 'degrading' treatment of WikiLeaks soldier

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The Independent US

A group of top legal scholars in the United States has turned the spotlight on what they say is the "degrading and inhumane" treatment of Bradley Manning, the US Army soldier, who stands accused of downloading and leaking classified cables and documents that led to the ongoing WikiLeaks affair.

No fewer than 250 legal experts expressed their concern in a letter published in the New York Review of Books. Among the signatories is Laurence Tribe, the prominent law professor who until just three months ago was serving as adviser to the US Justice Department.

So public and high-profile a legal scolding will be the only latest sting to the administration of Barack Obama, which has already faced pressure from the British Government and from human rights organisations to explain the apparently harsh conditions in which Private Manning is being held while awaiting a military court martial on 34 charges of illegally obtaining and disseminating the secret materials.

"The administration has provided no evidence that Manning's treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates," the letter states. "Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both."

Lawyers for Pte Manning revealed several weeks ago that their client, who, at a Marine camp in Virginia, is obliged every evening to surrender his clothes and sleep naked, allegedly because the authorities fear he may be a suicide risk. He is expected to stand naked in his cell in the morning to get his clothing back. At the camp since July of last year, he is held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.

Already, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, suffered the embarrassment of losing her long-time spokesperson, P J Crowley, last month after he was reported letting slip at a private talk to students in Massachusetts that he considered the manner of Pte Manning's incarceration to be "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid".

The letter to the magazine carries particular weight because of the inclusion of Prof Tribe. He is a Harvard professor of law who not only agreed to serve as an advisor to this administration but was a close advisor to Mr Obama during the 2008 election campaign.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the letter underlines that it is Mr Obama who is ultimately responsible for the treatment of Pte Manning. And it goes on to sharply rebuke the President, noting "he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander-in-chief meets fundamental standards of decency".

Pte Manning's mother is Welsh-born. In London last week, Henry Bellingham, parliamentary under secretary for foreign affairs, told the House of Commons British anxiety over case would be relayed to the US.