- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2011

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Army opened the doors of a Kansas military prison to reporters on Thursday in an unusual attempt to combat allegations that the military has been mistreating a private accused of passing U.S. government secrets to the website WikiLeaks.

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was moved last week from the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., to the Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth amid criticism over his treatment and confinement. At Quantico, Pfc. Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, stripped naked each night and given a suicide-proof smock in which to sleep.

Senior Pentagon officials insist those conditions met basic standards of confinement and were appropriate given the seriousness of the charges against Pfc. Manning. They say he was transferred because Fort Leavenworth is better suited to long-term detainment, which Pfc. Manning likely faces as his complex case unfolds.

Thursday’s tour, which barred the taking of photos or video, was intended to show the conditions inmates live in at the medium-security prison, which opened late last year and houses about 150 other inmates, including several awaiting trial. It was built near the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the military’s maximum-security prison for inmates sentenced to at least five years’ confinement or death.

“Clearly, Pfc. Manning is an unusual circumstance,” Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins said.

But Pfc. Manning’s supporters, who see him as a whistleblower, not a traitor, say the tour would only give a sanitized glimpse at life in the military prison, not the oppressive conditions Pfc. Manning has been subjected to since his arrest last year.

“This tour is an effort to relieve the pressure, but we will not let up until Manning is treated properly,” said Kevin Zeese, who operates the Bradley Manning Support Network. He said it was clear that pressure from Pfc. Manning’s supporters and international observers was having an effect on President Obama’s administration.

Pfc. Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, confidential State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

Mr. Zeese said the leaked documents exposed U.S. government hypocrisy and did not amount to treason.

“He is not charged with giving documents to Iran or any other enemy, or selling them to the highest bidder,” Mr. Zeese said. “He is accused of leaking the documents to the media so the American people would know what our government is doing.”

Eugene R. Fidell, a Yale Law School professor who heads the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, said he thinks the media tour is a positive step.

“Frankly, the military confinement and correction system has been very little studied,” Mr. Fidell said. “I’ve long thought it’s overdue for more scrutiny. Anything that sheds light will help allay concerns among the public and let people move onto more substantial matters.”

He said he’s concerned, though, about the amount of time the military has taken to try Pfc. Manning.

“It’s not the size of his cell or what he gets to wear at night. … It’s important for Manning because nobody should be held in abusive pre-trial confinement. … But I’m still waiting for the curtain to go up on the administration of justice,” Mr. Fidell said.

Pfc. Manning faces nearly two dozen charges, including aiding the enemy, a crime that could bring the death penalty or life in prison.

His transfer to Leavenworth came a bit more than a week after a U.N. torture investigator, Juan Mendez, complained that he was denied a request to make an unmonitored visit to Pfc. Manning. Pentagon officials said Mr. Mendez could meet with Pfc. Manning, but it is customary to give only the detainee’s lawyer confidential visits.

Mr. Mendez said a monitored conversation would be counter to the practice of his U.N. mandate.

A few days later, a committee of Germany’s parliament protested Pfc. Manning’s treatment to the White House, and Amnesty International has said Pfc. Manning’s treatment may violate his human rights.

Tom Parker, a policy director at Amnesty International, said, “The conditions that he was reported to be held in at Quantico were extremely harsh and could have damaged his mental health.”

Mr. Obama and senior military officials repeatedly have contended that Pfc. Manning is being held under appropriate conditions given the seriousness of the charges against him.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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