Just a couple of weeks ago, the Guardian reported that Bradley Manning “is a UK citizen by descent from his Welsh mother, Susan.” This was the first time this statement had ever appeared in the British press and the fact of Bradley’s UK citizenship is now firmly on the record.
In that same article, the Guardian also revealed that this country has yet to offer Bradley Manning anything in the way of consular support. An official at the British embassy in Washington was quoted as saying that the case “hasn’t crossed our path.”
This failure to offer consular support should be of great concern to all British friends of Bradley Manning. In cases of dual nationality, the British Government would normally make informal representations to the state concerned as a matter of course. This has not happened in the case of Bradley Manning.
More than this, a formal representation may be expected in cases where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sees a “special humanitarian reason” to get involved. In 2008 Kim Howells MP, then a Minister of State at the FCO, clarified the UK Government’s position on providing consular assistance to dual nationals where there is an allegation of torture:
“If we become aware of an allegation of torture against a dual UK national held in the country of their other nationality, it is likely we would seek consular access and we would carefully consider raising the allegation with the local authorities.”
We are only a few weeks into 2011, but there have already been three occasions this year when the British Government really should have sought consular access on behalf of Bradley Manning.
On 13th January 2011, the New York Times reported that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez had submitted a formal inquiry to the US State Department. A formal inquiry initiated by the UN’s Special Rapporteur constitutes a clear “allegation of torture.”
On 24th January 2011, Amnesty announced that they had written to US Defence secretary Robert Gates during the previous week. Amnesty’s Americas Programme Director, Susan Lee, spoke of her concern that “the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities. Such repressive conditions breach the US’s obligations to treat detainees with humanity and dignity. We’re also concerned that isolation and prolonged cellular confinement, which evidence shows can cause psychological impairment, may undermine Bradley Manning’s ability to defend himself.”
Finally, on 26th January 2011, the Commander of the Quantico marine brig, James Averhart was dismissed following the revelation that Bradley Manning had been placed under suicide watch for two days for punitive rather than medical reasons. This is evidence of wrongdoing – a senior official exceeding his authority – showing that not only has the US military failed to abide by international human rights standards in this case, it has also failed to abide by the rules it sets for itself.
The three instances above are clear evidence of a ‘special humanitarian reason’ to intervene – in fact, it is hard to imagine how the case could possibly be any clearer. As Clive Stafford Smith rightly said in The Times last week, “If the British were principled, they would intervene.”
In the circumstances, the British Government has an absolute responsibility to seek consular access to Bradley Manning. That no attempt appears to have been made is definitely something worth writing to your MP about – and if you’re stuck for what to write in your letter, the contents of this blog post may provide a good starting point.