Bradley Manning not a Prisoner of Conscience for Amnesty International ?

June 4, 2013


480px-bradley_manning_us_army_0

(Bradley Manning – (c) US Army)

With the trial of Bradley Manning coming up, there is a wide-ranging and not always educating discussion raging on LinkedIn and other fora about why he is not a ‘prisoner of conscience’ for AI. Two of the few more substantive but not very flattering statements – in the absence of a formal reply by AI of course – are reported here, but I should point out that the authors are even more scathing about HRW or other large NGOs:Joe Emersberger on his blog of 1 and 13 March 2013 ‘After two years, Amnesty explains why Bradley Manning has not been named a Prisoner of Conscience’:

Over two years ago, in January of 2011, Amnesty USA told me they were “investigating” if Bradley Manning qualified as a “Prisoner of Conscience”. They told me they weren’t sure about his motivations and they’d have to look at his employment contract. I was then dismayed to see that the LA Times editorial board, hardly a revolutionary group, came out with a strong denunciation of Manning’s barbaric pre-trial detention before Amnesty had made any public statement in his defence
Members of the Pussy Riot band in Russia were jailed on February 21, 2012. Less than 2 months later, Amnesty declared them to be “prisoners of conscience” (POC). The blazing speed with which Amnesty declared them Prisoners of Conscience prompted me to renew my inquiries about Manning. Almost all my emails went unanswered except for one in which no explanation was given though it was “hoped” that somebody from their “research team” would soon answer me.
Today, I was finally told by an Amnesty USA employee (after she consulted with their “expert” on the case) that they have still not named Manning a Prisoner of Conscience  but that Amnesty is “still investigating” if he qualifies. She added that Amnesty is not yet certain of two criteria that must be met
1) That Manning released information in a “responsible manner”
2) That the government has been punishing him in order to prevent public knowledge of human rights abuses.
The Philosophers Stone in “Why has Amnesty International refused to declare Bradley Manning a prisoner of conscience?’ adds to this that “A few weeks ago, I put that very question to the human rights organization. My question was eventually answered but only after I wrote a column for the weekly  New Europe criticizing Amnesty for not launching a major campaign in support of Manning. Nicolas Beger, head of Amnesty’s Brussels office, responded by saying that “we are simply not yet in a position to conclude whether Mr. Manning should be regarded as a prisoner of conscience, without knowing more about the specific allegations and evidence, his motives and how his case is prosecuted.” Beger explained that Amnesty will be sending an observer to Manning’s trial which is scheduled to begin in June: “It is common practice for Amnesty International to reach a decision in complex cases only once it has examined all the issues at the trial. If a government seeks to punish someone for releasing, in a responsible manner and for reasons of conscience, information that he or she reasonably believed to be evidence of human rights violations that the government was attempting to keep secret, this would typically be grounds for Amnesty International to consider the person a prisoner of conscience.”
Both authors are not convinced by the arguments given:
Joe Emersberger states: Given the gravity of the crimes exposed by Manning’s actions, it is actually hard to imagine a morally irresponsible way to divulge the information. …Daniel Ellsberg further demolishes Amnesty’s first excuse for not naming Manning a POC – Amnesty’s supposed uncertainty if Manning released information in a “responsible manner“:“Manning was working within a ‘SCIF,’ which stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. To get into a SCIF, a soldier needs a clearance higher than top secret. This means he had access to the highest classified material, such as communications and signals intelligence. This means he could’ve put out information top secret and higher, and purposely chose not to do so.”
Amnesty’s second doubt for withholding POC status from Manning is even more ridiculous. Amnesty would face intense ridicule, and rightfully so, if it claimed equally barbaric treatment dished out to whistleblowers in a country considered a rival or enemy of the West was not an attempt to prevent public knowledge of grave crimes. This is far from being the first example of Amnesty’s deference to Western powers. In this exchange, Amnesty attempted to rationalize a double standard in which arming Syrian rebels was acceptable but not the arming of Palestinians resisting Israel’s occupation.
Amnesty has done, and I suspect will continue to do, work that people genuinely concerned with human rights consider extremely useful and important. That is no reason to neglect to hold them accountable for very serious shortcomings. 

The Philosophers Stone says:  Contrary to what Beger suggests, there is nothing complex among Manning’s case. The soldier has been imprisoned for three years now because he caused an embarrassment for a superpower. His motives for doing so were spelled out in a statement that he made at a pre-trial hearing earlier this year. Manning released a trove of documents to WikiLeaks because he was horrified by the “bloodlust” of the US army captured on the “Collateral Murder” video — which shows an attack on unarmed civilians in Iraq — and hoped that the American public would be similarly outraged.

Amnesty’s website indicates that it has made a handful of appeals relating to Manning’s case. Most of these were issued in 2011 and focused on his conditions of detention. Though Amnesty correctly denounced those conditions as cruel, it did not call for his release. The argument that Amnesty should wait until Manning’s trial before deciding its position has not been invoked in some high-profile cases outside America. After the group Pussy Riot staged a protest in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral last year, Amnesty urged the Russian authorities to free three women arrested in connection with the incident ahead of their trial. Amnesty stated clearly that the members of Pussy Riot were targeted because of their “political opinions.”

In all fairness I should add that Amnesty USA continues to follow the trial and put out a statement yesterday, 3 June, as follows:

USA must allow Bradley Manning to use ‘public interest’ defence

Bradley Manning must be allowed to argue that he acted in the public interest when he distributed information to Wikileaks, Amnesty International said today as the trial against the US soldier begins in the US state of Maryland. Manning faces multiple charges in relation to obtaining and distributing thousands of classified documents to unauthorized parties, including “aiding the enemy” The charge of aiding the enemy carries a potential death sentence, although the prosecution has said it would not seek this in his case. Instead, Manning faces a possible life sentence or decades in prison.

The court must allow Manning to explain in full his motives for releasing the information to Wikileaks. It disturbing that he was not permitted to offer the ‘public interest’ defence as he has said he reasonably believed he was exposing human rights and humanitarian law violations,” said Anne FitzGerald, Director of Research and Crisis Response at Amnesty International. “Allowing Manning to explain his motives only at the sentencing stage could have a chilling effect on others who believe that they are whistleblowing or acting in the public interest in disclosing information.” “Manning should have been allowed to explain how in his opinion, the public interest in being made aware of the information he disclosed outweighed the government’s interest in keeping it confidential.”

Manning has already pleaded guilty to 11 of the charges after presiding Judge Col. Denise Lind ruled that he could not argue that he was acting in the public interest when he released information to Wikileaks. At the start of his trial, in a statement read to the Court, Manning stated that he believed he was exposing abuses. Judge Lind ruled that Manning’s motives for disclosure were not relevant to whether he had intentionally broken the law, but could only be considered in mitigation for purposes of sentencing. Manning could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years for the 11 charges for which he has pleaded guilty.

…….Amnesty International will continue to follow the case closely and will send an observer at key points of the trial, which is expected to run for the next several months.

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