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Bradley Manning is leaving Quantico – but does this really change anything?

News broke last night (Tuesday) of Bradley Manning’s “imminent” move from the Quantico marine brig to a new pre-trial facility at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

The Department of Defense held a press conference at 5.30pm their time on Tuesday, putting forward their reasoning for moving Bradley and for doing so at this particular time. The transcript and video of the press conference are available to view in full, but here’s a short clip:

Jeh Johnson, General Counsel at the Department of Defense here argues that, due to Bradley having now given the personal interview required for his mental competency (706 Board) hearing, his “presence in the Washington DC area is no longer necessary for that purpose,” notwithstanding that the review is still ongoing and may not report for a while yet. He went on to say the following:

Many will be tempted to interpret today’s action as a criticism of the pre-trial facility at Quantico. That is not the case. We remain satisfied that Private Manning’s pre-trial confinement at Quantico was in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects, and we salute the military personnel there for the job they did in difficult circumstances.

At this juncture of the case, given the likely continued period of pre-trial confinement, we have determined that the new pre-trial facility at Fort Leavenworth is the most appropriate one for Private Manning going forward.

That the conditions Bradley has been experiencing have been up until now have been “in compliance with legal and regulatory standards” is, obviously, highly questionable. Moreover, as P.J Crowley has remarked on twitter this afternoon, these remarks could very well be interpreted as an admission that mistakes had been made in keeping Bradley at Quantico for such an extended period. An unnamed military official has been even more candid (“The marines blew it.”)

Other revealing points from the full press conference included:

  • Army Secretary Joseph Westphalcommenting that the detention facility at Fort Leavenworth was a “medium security” one, which offered many resources – but there was no assurance that Bradley Manning would be transferred to a medium security regime from the maximum security plus prevention of injury order he suffers under currently, or that he would be granted access to any of those resources. Should Bradley’s regime continue as it is at present, he would likely be housed in the special confinement unit of the pre-trial facility, which has been described to me as follows:

    These cells are even worse than where Bradley is now, in that the room Bradley will be confined in for 23 hours will have a solid door with only a thin horizontal slot through which meals and mail can be slid through, and a panel at the bottom of the door that guards can open to chain his ankles together before he leaves the cell. Instead of guards constantly watching him through bars, he will have security cameras in his cell. He will have a glass pane for outside light, but not be able to see out or talk to anyone. The isolation is going to be even crueler, if that’s possible.

    While the DoD may say that Brad will be eating in a common area and get to go outside for up to 3 hours of exercise, this is in reality a privilege granted to inmates who are “good prisoners” after they get there, and Brad has been denied every single privilege available to him no matter how well he behaves.

    The likeliness of this eventuality may be indicated by the fact that Army Press updated the special housing unit web page on Monday, in advance of the press conference in which Bradley’s move was officially announced.

  • Jeh Johnson, drawing on his experience of federal trials remarking that, when Bradley does return to Washington to face trial (which he must to as he remains under the jurisdiction of the military authorities there) his trial may very well prove to me “a multi-month if not multi-year experience.”
  • Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton, the Commander of the pre-trial facility at Fort Leavenworth, admitting that any changes to the conditions of Bradley’s confinement would be “based upon the initial assessment when he comes into the facility and environment and how he assimilates into the environment.”

Finally – and intriguingly for those who have been watching the UK campaign closely – when asked about the timing of the decision to move Bradley Manning, Jeh Johnson admitted that “We began to look at this a couple of weeks ago.” This dovetails almost exactly with the timing of Ann Clwyd’s adjournment debate of the evening of Monday 4th April, when it was promised that a senior official at the British Embassy in Washington would be making a second diplomatic protest to their counterpart at the US State Department, this time with the background of an official recognition that Bradley Manning is a British citizen by descent.

As reported here earlier today, Ann Clwyd has said that “I am pleased that the campaign to draw attention to the appalling detention treatment of Bradley Manning appears to be having some results, in that he is to be moved to another prison which the US Department of Defense claims will provide better conditions.” We agree with Ann that any indication of better conditions is, at the moment, purely based on the words of the Department of Defense – and, as discussed above, they were careful not to promise that Bradley Manning’s status as a maximum security prisoner under a prevention of injury order will change.

Given that Department of Defence statements on how Bradley Manning is being treated have not been conspicuously reliable in the past (how shall I count the ways? Let’s start with this, this, this and this – not to mention this), we believe that the onus is firmly on the DOD to demonstrate in due course that Bradley’s treatment has improved so that it meets internationally accepted minimum standards. Lifting the Monitoring Order that prevents respected authorities from visiting Bradley in conditions of confidentiality would probably be a good way of achieving this in the first instance and would do much to demonstrate that the DOD is serious about being seen to treat Bradley Manning in a civilised fashion.

(big thanks to Michelle Tackabery for all the background information on Fort Leavenworth)

Update I

Press releases have been issued by Dennis Kucinich and the Bradley Manning Support Network. The latter makes the important point that the move to Kansas places Bradley at some distance from his legal counsel and much of the US side of his family. However, if the Pentagon reckoned that the move would prevent high-profile protests like that seen at Quantico a month ago happening again, they will disappointed: local activists are getting organised and a demonstration is already being planned for 4th June.

Update II

The always-instructive Chirpinator has compiled a selection of Tuesday night’s reaction to the announcement of Bradley’s move on twitter.

Update III

Bradley Manning is now at Fort Leavenworth. His family have welcomed the move with Bradley’s aunt Sharon expressing the view that the ongoing campaign was responsible for these latest developments.

Update IV

Good to see that Amnesty feel similarly to us:

“We believe sustained public pressure for the US government to uphold human rights in Bradley Manning’s case has contributed to this move” said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s director for the Americas.

“We hope Bradley Manning’s conditions will significantly improve at Fort Leavenworth, but we will be watching how he is treated very closely. His conditions at Quantico have been a breach of international standards for humane treatment of an untried prisoner.”

The organisation will be monitoring the conditions under which Bradley Manning is confined at Fort Leavenworth following the risk assessment Manning will undergo upon arrival there, which could last up to a week.

“Until this assessment, it is still not possible to know how Bradley Manning is going to be treated, and what restrictions he will be under at the new detention centre,” said Susan Lee.

“Bradley Manning is entitled to be treated humanely and, as an unconvicted prisoner, to the presumption of innocence and to be held under the least restrictive detention conditions possible.”

As does Dennis Kucinich on the reliability of DOD statements:

“Frankly, I don’t believe anything they say when it comes to Bradley Manning.”

Complete footage of Kucunich’s Wednesday interview with MSNBC may be viewed at firedoglake.