Bradley Manning

Yesterday the UK assisted the US in stepping up pressure on journalists and whistleblowers by detaining the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Edward Snowden NSA surveillance story,  under the Terrorism Act. And in the US a prosecutor asked the court trying Bradley Manning to sentence him to 60 years in prison. Here Patrick Hawkes of the Peace and Justice Centre offers a timely short biography of the US soldier who was convicted of 6 violations of the Espionage Act for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.  

Bradley Edward Manning was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to the website Wiki Leaks. He was ultimately charged with 22 offenses, including communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source and aiding the enemy. He was convicted in July 2013 of 17 of the charges, including six violations of the Espionage Act, but was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge. The court is now considering sentencing. He faces a possible sentence of up to 90 years.

 Manning started basic training for the US army in 2008, but suffered bullying for being small in stature, for being a ‘runt’, at only 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m) and weighing 105 lb (47.6 kg) and for being gay. Perhaps an unusual person to join the military, Manning used to remain silent at the section about God in the pledge of allegiance at school and beyond as he didn’t believe in God or religion. He was however a talented student, excelling at the saxophone, science, and computers. His father told PBS that Manning created his first website when he was ten years old. He taught himself how to use Power Point, won the grand prize three years in a row at the local science fair, and in sixth grade took top prize at a state-wide quiz bowl.

In August 2008, Manning was sent to FortDrum in Jefferson County, New York, where he joined the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and trained for deployment to Iraq. In October 2009, he was deployed to Forward Operating Base Hammer, near Baghdad, arriving in October 2009. From his workstation there, he had access to SIPRNet (the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network) and JWICS (the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System). A month later, in November 2009, he was promoted from Private First Class to Specialist. That same month, according to his chats with Lamo, he made his first contact with WikiLeaks. Also in November, Manning wrote to a gender counselor in the United States, said he felt female, and discussed having sex reassignment surgery. The counselor told Steve Fishman of New York Magazine that it was clear Manning was in crisis,partly because of his gender concerns, but also because he was opposed to the kind of war in which he found himself involved.


WikiLeaks was set up in late 2006 as a disclosure portal, initially using the Wikipedia model, where volunteers would write up restricted or legally threatened material submitted by whistleblowers. It was Julian Assange – an Australian Internet activist and journalist, and the de facto editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks – who had the idea of creating what Ben Laurie called an “open-source, democratic intelligence agency.” The open-editing aspect was soon abandoned, but the site remained open for anonymous submissions.

WikiLeaks posted the first of the material allegedly from Manning on February 18, 2010, a diplomatic cable dated January 13, 2010, from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland, a document now known as Reykjavik13. Manning told Adrian Lamo that he gave WikiLeaks the video of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike after finding it in a Judge Advocate’s directory. WikiLeaks named it Collateral Murder.” The video showed an American helicopter firing on a group of men in Baghdad. One of the men was a journalist, and two other men were Reuters employees carrying cameras that the pilots mistook for an anti-tank grenade launcher (RPG-7). The helicopter also fired on a van that stopped to help the injured members of the first group; two children in the van were wounded and their father killed. It was this video, viewed by millions, that put WikiLeaks on the map.

On May 20, 2010, Manning had contacted Lamo, a former “grey hat” hacker convicted in 2004 of having accessed The New York Times computer network two years earlier without permission. In a series of chats between May 21 and 25, Manning – using the handle “bradass87” – told Lamo that he had leaked classified material. He introduced himself as an army intelligence analyst, and within 17 minutes, without waiting for a reply, alluded to the leaks.

Manning told Lamo he was also responsible for the “Cablegate” leak of 251,287 State Department cables, written by 271 American embassies and consulates in 180 countries, dated December 1966 to February 2010. The cables were passed by Assange with the names of sources removed. WikiLeaks said it was the largest set of confidential documents ever released into the public domain. According to Manning’s written memo to the court, he also provided Wikileaks with a classified video of the Granai airstrike. The airstrike occurred on May 4, 2009, in the village of Granai, Afghanistan, killing 86–147 Afghan civilians. In March 2013, Julian Assange said that Wikileaks had received the video from Manning and described the airstrike as a “war crime.”


Manning said the incident that had affected him the most was when 15 detainees had been arrested by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing anti-Iraqi literature. He was asked by the army to find out who the “bad guys” were, and discovered that the detainees had followed what Manning said was a corruption trail within the Iraqi cabinet. He reported this to his commanding officer, but said “he didn’t want to hear any of it”; he said the officer told him to help the Iraqi police find more detainees. Manning said it made him realize, “I was actively involved in something that I was completely against”

Arrest and Detentionh

Manning was arrested on May 27, 2010, and transferred four days later to CampArifjan in Kuwait. He was charged with several offences in July 2010, replaced by 22 charges in March 2011, including violations of Articles 92 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and of the Espionage Act. The most serious charge was “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense, although prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty.

He was moved from Kuwait to the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, on July 29, 2010, and classified as a maximum custody detainee, with Prevention of Injury (POI) status. POI status is one stop short of suicide watch, which he was also placed on, entailing checks by guards every five minutes. His lawyer, David Coombs, a former military attorney, said he was not allowed to sleep between 5 am (7 am at weekends) and 8 pm, and was made to stand or sit up if he tried to. He was required to remain visible at all times, including at night, which entailed no access to sheets, no pillow except one built into his mattress, and a blanket designed not to be shredded. Manning complained that he regarded it as pre-trial punishment.

His cell was 6 × 12 ft with no window, containing a bed, toilet, and sink. The jail had 30 cells built in a U shape, and although detainees could talk to one another, they were unable to see each other. His lawyer said the guards behaved professionally, and had not tried to harass or embarrass Manning. He was allowed to walk for up to one hour a day, meals were taken in the cell, and he was shackled during visits. There was access to television when it was placed in the corridor, and he was allowed to keep one magazine and one book. Because he was in pre-trial detention, he received full pay and benefits.

On March 2, 2011, he was told that his request that his POI status be removed had been denied. His lawyer said Manning joked to the guards that, if he wanted to harm himself, he could do so with his underwear or his flip-flops. The comment resulted in him having his clothes removed at night, and he had to present himself naked one morning for inspection.

The detention conditions prompted national and international concern. Juan E. Mendez, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, published a report saying the detention conditions had been “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” In January 2011 Amnesty International asked the British government to intervene because of Manning’s status as a British citizen by descent, although Manning’s lawyer said he did not regard himself as a British citizen. The controversy claimed a casualty in March that year when State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley criticized Manning’s treatment and resigned two days later. In early April 295 academics (most of them American legal scholars) signed a letter arguing that the treatment was a violation of the United States Constitution. On April 20, the Pentagon transferred Manning to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, a new medium-security facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was placed in an 80-square-foot cell with a window and a normal mattress, able to mix with other pre-trial detainees and keep personal objects in his cell.

In April 2011, a panel of experts ruled that Manning was fit to stand trial. During the Article 32 hearing, the prosecution, led by Captain Ashden Fein, presented 300,000 pages of documents in evidence, including chat logs and classified material. The court heard from two army investigators, Special Agent David Shaver, head of the digital forensics and research branch of the army’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit (CCIU), and Mark Johnson, a digital forensics contractor from Man Tech International, who works for the CCIU. They testified that they had found 100,000 State Department cables on a workplace computer Manning had used between November 2009 and May 2010; 400,000 military reports from Iraq and 91,000 from Afghanistan on an SD Card found in his basement room in his aunt’s home in Potomac, Maryland; and 10,000 cables on his personal MacBook Pro and storage devices that they said had not been passed to WikiLeaks because a file was corrupted. They also recovered 14–15 pages of encrypted chats, in unallocated space on Manning’s MacBook hard drive, between Manning and someone believed to be Julian Assange.

Manning’s lawyers argued that the government had overstated the harm the release of the documents had caused, and had overcharged Manning to force him to give evidence against Assange. The defense also raised the issue of his gender identity disorder, whether it had affected his judgment, and whether the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy had made it difficult for Manning to serve in the army.

 In December 2012 the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, accepted terms that would allow Manning to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a maximum sentence of 16 years. He pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges of February 28, 2013. Reading for over an hour from a 35-page statement, he said he had leaked the cables “to show the true cost of war.”Prosecutors pursued a court-martial on the remaining charges, including aiding the enemy. The trial began on June 3, 2013; he was convicted on July 30 of 17 of the 22 charges in their entirety, including five counts of espionage and theft, and an amended version of four other charges. He was acquitted of aiding the enemy. The sentencing phase began on July 31 and could last several weeks. The judge ruled in January 2013 that his sentence would be reduced by 112 days because of his treatment at Quantico. During sentencing hearings Manning apologized for harming the United States. The Prosecutor has asked the court to sentence Manning to 60 years while the defense has asked for a sentence of no more than 25 years.  

The publication of the leaked material, particularly the diplomatic cables, attracted in-depth coverage across the globe, with several governments blocking websites that contained embarrassing details. Denver Nicks wrote that Manning’s name “appended like a slogan to wholesale denunciations and exultations alike.” United States Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the leaks had placed the lives of American soldiers and Afghan informants in danger. Journalist Glenn Greenwald argued that Manning was the most important whistleblower since Daniel Ellsbeg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971. President Barak Obama salid Manning “broke the law.”


Manning and WikiLeaks were credited as catalysts for the Arab Spring that began in December 2010, when waves of protesters rose up against rulers across the Middle East and North Africa after the leaked cables exposed government corruption.


Washington Post editorial asked why an apparently unstable Army private had been able to access and transfer sensitive material in the first place. According to Nicks, Manning’s sexuality came into play too. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed not long after his arrest, with Manning illustrating for the far right that gays were unfit for military service, while the mainstream media presented him as a gay soldier driven mad by bullying.


Take Action


On 30th July Bradley Manning was convicted of most the charges arising from his release of classified US documents to WikiLeaks, but found not guilty of “aiding the enemy”. It was a grim day for civil liberties as the US sent a message: whistleblowers will be punished. Amnesty International criticised the verdict saying of the US government, “they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing- reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government”


Email Major General Jeffrey Buchanan at and appeal to him to use his Convening Authority of these proceedings to reduce any sentence handed down by judge Lind and write to President Barak Obama to pardon Bradley Manning.

Patrick Hawkes



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