Saturday, December 18, 2010

Once more into the leak

On Wednesday, supporters of US hero Bradley Manning went public with complaints about the harsh conditions of his imprisonment, conditions which, as Glenn Greenwald wrote, "constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture."
For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed.... For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.
That very last part, about what he can watch on TV, is disputed by a Quantico official named Lt. Brian Villiard, but as Greenwald notes, that is both different from all other reports and ultimately a really minor point since Villiard pretty much confirmed all the rest.

The supporters decided to go public after complaints to the military got no response.
"We were aware of those situations [of Manning's confinement] and we were hoping that they would improve without applying public pressure through the media," Jeff Paterson, who runs Manning's legal defense fund, told The Huffington Post. "His attorney and supporters were hoping that this could be taken care of through the appropriate channels."

Paterson says that Manning is "very annoyed" at the conditions of his confinement, adding that he is primarily upset at his inability to exercise. "He sits in this small box, for the most part only to take a shower - he just sits and eats and four months have gone by."
Greenwald argues that the purpose of the treatment is to get Julian Assange by coercing Manning into testifying that Assange colluded with and/or actively encouraged him to leak the documents in order to justify charging Assange as a "co-conspirator" in the leaking. That argument is given extra weight by the report in the Belfast Telegraph (UK) that
US sources [have] revealed that prosecutors are awaiting a decision from the American Attorney-General, Eric Holder, on what form of plea bargaining they should offer to Manning in return for him incriminating Mr Assange as a fellow conspirator in disseminating the classified information.
Friends say Manning has so far refused to cooperate but express worry at his "increasingly fragile condition" after seven months in solitary confinement.

This even as John Conyers, still-for-now chair of the House Judiciary Committee, defended WikiLeaks during a committee hearing on Thursday,
arguing that the controversial actions of the anti-secrecy outlet are protected under free speech. ...

"[B]eing unpopular is not a crime[," Conyers said in prepared remarks, "]and publishing offensive information is not either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable." ...

"And so whatever you think about this controversy, it is clear that prosecuting Wikileaks would raise the most fundamental questions about freedom of speech, about who is a journalist, and about what the public can know about the actions of its own government," Conyers said.
That issue is the driving force behind the DOJ's attempt to come up with a case for a conspiracy charge, even if doing so requires torturing Bradley Manning until he agrees to testify so that, in the words of Robert Feldman, a US lawyer specializing on security issues, "a picture can be drawn of an Assange, an older man, who manipulated an emotionally disturbed younger man" into doing the evil deed. The aim, that is, is to avoid "awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret," says an article in the NY Times.

But such an indictment wouldn't avoid those questions, it would enable them, since the stack of revealing documents mysteriously dropped uninvited on a reporter's desk is a virtually complete fantasy - and thus the proposed bizarre new twist on the term "conspiracy" would threaten to criminalize much of investigative journalism. A reporter says to a source "I can't publish just on your word - I need to see the document," the source agrees - and you have a criminal conspiracy.

Then again, considering that the O-gang has been even more aggressive about keeping secrets and going after whistleblowers than even the Shrub gang was, maybe they don't think that's such an unpleasant idea.

Footnote: The Belfast Telegraph also reports that
a number of hackers have claimed they have been offered financial inducements in return for associating with WikiLeaks and gathering evidence of wrongdoing.

One computer specialist told the Washington Post said the US Army offered him money to “infiltrate” the website, but he turned it down because “I don’t’ want anything to do with cloak and dagger stuff.” An Army criminal investigation division spokesman told the newspaper “We’ve got an ongoing investigation. We don't discuss our techniques and tactics."
Techniques and tactics which apparently include spying and entrapment. But I guess once torture is on the table, there's little basis for keeping anything else off.

Another Footnote: Marcy Wheeler passes along the news that employees at AT&T and Verizon are griping that they are being blocked from accessing news articles about WikiLeaks. An update says that a source at AT&T says the sites "are not blocked, at least not consistently or completely" - but I'm not sure if having them blocked only sometimes is a serious improvement.

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