Accused Soldier in Brig as WikiLeaks Link Is Sought
Andrew Testa for The New York
A sign posted near the British estate where Julian Assange, the
WikiLeaks founder, is staying.
Published: January 13,
Assange, the flamboyant founder ofWikiLeaks,
is living on a supporter’s 600-acre estate outside London, where he has
negotiated $1.7 million in book deals and regularly issues defiant statements
about the antisecrecy group’s plans.
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Meanwhile, the young soldier accused of leaking the secret
documents that brought WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange to fame and notoriety is locked
in a tiny cell at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. The soldier, Pfc.
Manning, who turned 23 last month in the military prison, is accused of the
biggest leak of classified documents in American history. He awaits trial on
charges that could put him in prison for 52 years, according to the
Even as members of Congress denounce both men’s actions as
criminal, the Justice Department is still looking for a charge it can press
against Mr. Assange, demanding fromTwitter
the account records, credit card numbers and bank account information of several
of his associates. Legal experts say there are many obstacles to a prosecution
of the WikiLeaks founder, but one approach under consideration is to link the
two men in a conspiracy to disclose classified material.
supporters that Private Manning is being mistreated, perhaps to pressure him to
testify against Mr. Assange, have rallied many on the political left to his
defense. The assertions have even drawn the attention of the United
Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, who said he had
submitted a formal inquiry about the soldier’s treatment to the State
Private Manning’s cause has been taken up by the nation’s
best-known leaker of classified secrets, Daniel
Ellsberg, who gave the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971. He denounces
Private Manning’s seven months in custody and media coverage that has emphasized
the soldier’s sexual orientation (he is gay) and personal troubles. Mr.
Ellsberg, 79, calls him a courageous patriot.
“I identify with him very
much,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “He sees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d say
correctly, as I saw Vietnam as hopeless ventures that are wrong and involve a
great deal of atrocities.”
The military rejects accusations that Private
Manning has been mistreated. “Poppycock,” said Col. T. V. Johnson, a Quantico
spokesman. He insisted that the conditions of confinement were dictated by brig
rules for a pretrial detainee like Private Manning. The soldier has been
designated for “maximum custody” applied because his escape would pose a
national security risk and placed on “prevention-of-injury watch,”
restrictions imposed so that he does not injure himself.
That status is
based on the judgment of military medical experts and the observations of brig
guards, Colonel Johnson said. Guards check Private Manning every five minutes
but allow him to sleep without interruption from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., when only
dim night lights are on, unless they need to wake him to be certain he is
Colonel Johnson denied that Private Manning was in solitary
confinement, as has been widely claimed, saying that he could talk with guards
and with prisoners in nearby cells, though he could not see them. He leaves his
6-by-12-foot cell for a daily hour of exercise, and for showers, phone calls,
meetings with his lawyer and weekend visits by friends and relatives, the
The prisoner can read and watch television and correspond
with people on an approved list. He is not permitted to speak to the
“Pfc. Manning is being treated just like every other detainee in
the brig,” said an internal military review concluded on Dec. 27 and read to a
reporter by Colonel Johnson. “His treatment is firm, fair and
The soldier’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, declined to comment
for this article, and two people who have visited him at Quantico Private
Manning’s aunt, Debra Van Alstyne, and a friend who is an M.I.T.
graduate student, David M. House did not respond to queries.
In an interview with MSNBC last
month, Mr. House said of his friend that he had “noticed a remarkable
decline in his psychological state and his physical well-being.” He said that
Private Manning appeared “very weak from a lack of exercise” and that
“psychologically, he has difficulty keeping up with some conversational
In an account
on Mr. Coombs’s Web site of his client’s “typical day,” he detailed the
restrictions on the soldier but called the guards’ conduct
“At no time have they tried to bully, harass or embarrass
Pfc. Manning,” he wrote.
Asked why the case appears to be moving so
slowly, an Army spokeswoman, Shaunteh Kelly, said that the defense had requested
a delay in July and that a “706 board,” or mental health evaluation, was not
She added in an e-mail that “Cases involving computers and
classified information are very complex and require methodical investigation,”
and that all lawyers, members of the 706 board and military investigators needed
to get proper clearances.
Mr. Assange, with his provocative statements,
his recognizable shock of white hair and the accusations of sexual misconduct he
faces in Sweden, has become WikiLeaks’s public face. But while he began
WikiLeaks in 2006, overseeing a steady trickle of revelations, the site drew
broad attention for the first time only when it began to release the material
that Private Manning is accused of downloading from his computer in Iraq, where
he was a low-level intelligence analyst.
The material includes a video
showing two American helicopters shooting at people in Baghdad in 2007, two of
them Reuters journalists who were killed; thousands of field reports on the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan; and 251,287 cables sent between American embassies and
the State Department.
If Private Manning was indeed the source of the
documents, as he suggested in online chat logs made public by Wired magazine, it
is he who is largely responsible for making WikiLeaks a household name and the
target of fury from the Pentagon, the State Department and members of Congress
of both parties.
He is the only person charged in the WikiLeaks case so
far. And despite his supporters’ suspicions that he will be pressured to testify
against Mr. Assange, the Army spokeswoman, Ms. Kelly, said that to date, Private
Manning had not spoken with civilian investigators or prosecutors.
Assange has often spoken highly of the soldier, to whose defense fund WikiLeaks
has donated more than $100,000. In an article in the British magazine New
Statesman on Thursday that called Private Manning “the world’s pre-eminent
prisoner of conscience,” Mr. Assange said he believed the Justice Department’s
goal was to force the soldier to confess “that he somehow conspired with me to
harm the security of the United States.”
“Cracking Bradley Manning is the
first step,” Mr. Assange said.
A version of this article appeared in print on January 14, 2011, on page
A1 of the New York edition.