WikiLeaks 'whistleblower' is deemed fit to stand trial

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The Independent US

Bradley Manning, the American soldier accused of handing government secrets to the WikiLeaks whistle-blowing organisation, has been found mentally fit to stand trial, the US Army said yesterday.

A spokesman said a panel of psychologists had evaluated Private Manning after his transfer last week from a Virginia prison to a new facility at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. The conditions of his solitary confinement in Virginia had sparked an international furore.

In Kansas, no longer held in isolation, he has been granted privileges previously denied to him, including daily visits and unlimited phone use.

The US administration was fiercely condemned by human rights groups and the United Nations for the manner of his detention at the Quantico base in Virginia. As well as being in isolation, he was made to surrender all his clothes and sleep naked every night, officially because he was a suicide risk.

The Pentagon took the unusual step last week of allowing reporters to tour the Kansas facility. Welsh-born Pte Manning is now one of 150 medium-security inmates at Fort Leavenworth, where another 10 are also awaiting trial.

The soldier's new cell measures 8ft by 10ft and has a small window and single bunk bed. He will receive three hours of exercise every day and will no longer be on suicide watch, officials said.

Pte Manning's wider freedoms come in part because of the finding that he is mentally fit. "He will be treated like other pre-trial confinees," US Army Col Tom Collins said. "He will have the same rights and privileges."

No date has been set yet for his hearing, where he will face nearly two dozen charges of allegedly downloading cables and other secret materials from a government computer while deployed in Iraq and then passing them to WikiLeaks.

One of the charges he faces involves aiding the enemy – of which, if he is found guilty, could technically carry a death sentence. However, Army prosecutors have indicated they would seek a sentence of up to life in prison instead.

Leavenworth officials were at pains to stress that since last week's transfer there he was no longer deemed in danger of killing himself and would not be detained in isolation. "Typically in this facility, we would not keep anybody on suicide watch more than 24 to 48 hours," said Col Dawn Hilton.

"He will be able to congregate and commune with other pre-trial prisoners in the housing unit and will have recreation during the afternoon," she told visiting reporters. "He will be able to eat inside the dining facility with other prisoners."

While officials insisted that moving inmates from Quantico was common practice, the uproar over the allegedly excessively harsh conditions in which he was detained had become an embarrassment for the government.

A UN official responsible for monitoring torture around the world castigated Washington after being denied access to him.

A group of leading US legal scholars also fiercely criticised President Barack Obama in an open letter to national newspapers this month.

As journalists were escorted through the freshly painted Leavenworth complex, they were supplied with an unusually detailed description about Pte Manning's new routine, which will include rising at 5am each day and going to bed at 10pm. Aside from being allowed to exercise and have visitors, the soldier will be granted full access to the jail library, although not to the internet. However, among those barred from visiting him are reporters.