Almost exactly a month ago, Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham admitted in the House of Commons that Bradley Manning is a UK citizen by descent (as we have always argued here), that diplomatic representations would be made to the United States Government on his behalf and that any request from Bradley’s family for consular access “would be looked at.” Bradley’s mother Susan wrote a letter to the Foreign Secretary William Hague on 13th April asking for precisely this: that someone from the British Embassy in Washington be sent over to see Bradley (something they would do for any other prisoner in his position, certainly one facing the death penalty) and that the Embassy would provide assistance to the family in making their visits to Bradley easier.
It has now been three weeks since Bradley’s mother wrote that letter and the Foreign Office, although they “understand [the] concerns” about what has been happening to Bradley, have not yet deigned to send Susan a response. Today, our suspicions that they might be stonewalling were confirmed. At just after 3pm this afternoon (Tuesday), Ann Clwyd MP raised the case of Bradley Manning at Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions. She had submitted a written question to Foreign Office Minister Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt and then made a follow-up question in person.
Those in the UK may view this encounter on BBC iPlayer for the next seven days. Ann’s question appears at 34.20.
Clwyd (written question): Have discussions been held with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture about Bradley Manning?
Burt: Mr Speaker, we are aware of discussions which the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has had with the United States Government, but the Foreign and Commonwealth [Office] has not had any discussions with him on the case of Bradley Manning.
Clwyd: I have raised the question of Bradley Manning on several occasions, in this Chamber and outside. Mrs Susan Manning, who is Bradley Manning’s mother, wrote to the Foreign Secretary three weeks ago. She has not yet had a reply.
She asked for consular assistance; she asked for someone to visit her son in the very bad conditions he has been held in and she also asked for any help they can give, in Washington and elsewhere, to the family if they so request it. At the very least Mrs. Manning, who is very concerned about the situation of her son, should have had the courtesy of a reply.
Burt: The honourable lady knows, through the adjournment debate she had on precisely this subject, that Bradley Manning does not consider himself a UK citizen and his lawyer has made it very clear that he doesn’t consider that he has any contact with this country. We therefore cannot discuss his nationality and we are limited both of what we can say and what we can do in relation to this case. But his lawyer is well aware of the circumstances and is well aware of the position of the United Kingdom Government.
Ann Clwyd – needless to say – was not satisfied with this answer and went on to make a point of order later in the afternoon (you can find the transcript below). She was then informed that the British Government would not be willing to send someone to see Bradley, unless Bradley himself should request that they do so.
Not only are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office snubbing Bradley’s mother, they are now also flying in the face of established consular practice – as it should be remembered that not only is there is an allegation of torture in Bradley’s case, he is also facing the death penalty. Given that the British Government has now made two separate diplomatic representations to their American counterparts about Bradley’s treatment, their reluctance to follow this up with a consular visit – as any prisoner in Bradley’s position could expect as a matter of course – does seem rather odd.
The law on consular access between the US and UK is very clear that the only thing that would prevent a visit to Bradley being made, should the Foreign Office decide to send someone, is Bradley specifically stating that he didn’t want it to happen. As it stands, there is no legal or procedural barrier to the FCO sending someone from the Embassy over to Fort Leavenworth: there is only a lack of will to do so. Emails to MPs and additional signatures to Early Day Motion 1624 would certainly help us let the FCO know that this is not acceptable.
Ann Clwyd’s point of order may now be read in Hansard – the transcript makes the extent of the FCO’s backtracking extremely obvious:
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that half the Cabinet are not supposed to be talking to the other half, but I hope that Foreign Office Ministers are talking to one another. I say that because the answer given to me by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on the case of Bradley Manning is misleading.
I have raised this issue on several occasions. I raised it with the Foreign Secretary on 16 March and again during business questions on 17 March. I raised it once more during an Adjournment debate on 4 April, when I was told that
“a senior official in our embassy in Washington called on the US State Department on 29 March”
to discuss Private Manning’s terrible situation in prison. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) went on to say:
“the right hon. Lady’s understanding of the British Nationality Act 1981 is accurate. Any person born outside the UK after 1 January 1983 whose mother is a UK citizen by birth is British by descent.”
He continued by saying that Mr Manning’s family had not made a “direct request” for help,
“but obviously, if it comes to consular assistance of any kind, we will look at that request as and when one is made.”—[Official Report, 4 April 2011; Vol. 526, c. 873-74.]
Such a request was made to the Foreign Secretary on 11 April by Bradley Manning’s mother, who said that she now understands that
“according to British law, Bradley qualifies as a British national.”
“I visited Bradley at the end of February…I was very distressed by seeing Bradley”
in the condition he is in—
Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady, who is a very experienced Member of the House. I know that she would not accuse any Minister of wilfully misleading the House; I am sure that she meant to say that she thought that the Minister was inadvertently misleading the House. She will understand, and the House will appreciate, that we cannot continue Foreign Office questions now. However, as the Minister, who is among the most courteous of Ministers in the House, is on the Bench ready and waiting with bated breath to respond, he should do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me some extra time. Nothing that the right hon. Lady has said is wrong in any way. Her concerns were conveyed to the State Department by an official of the Government, but the crucial point is that although I can well understand her concern and what Bradley Manning’s mother may have done, we are not able to respond to that, as any request for assistance has to come from the individual. I can only stress what I have said to the right hon. Lady, which is that Bradley Manning’s lawyers are aware of the UK Government’s position and they are also aware of how to change it. That is the situation. I can help the right hon. Lady further only in private, rather than on the Floor of the House. I hope that is all right.
The Guardian are now covering the FCO’s disgraceful stonewalling in an excellent piece, which includes the following strong statement from Ann Clwyd:
“Their refusal to respond to Susan Manning or support Bradley Manning can’t be [because of] a genuine confusion over his nationality, the responsibility the British government have for him or the conditions in which he is being held,” she said.
“There is no room for genuine confusion over these issues,” she added, pointing to comments by Méndez, who has been investigating whether Manning’s treatment to date amounted to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” or torture. “This avoidance game they are playing can only be completely deliberate,” she said.
As a British citizen facing the death penalty abroad, Bradley Manning should have received a visit from a representative of this country long ago. The FCO are as aware of this as we are and their prevarication does them no credit at all.