The publication at the end of last year of the US Senate report into CIA torture provides an opportunity for the international community to directly intervene in the fate of the person who might well be described as the catalyst for that report – namely, the whistleblower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who is serving 35 years imprisonment. The Senate report confirmed much of what Manning revealed. It also confirmed that the torture and rendition program run by the CIA involved collusion from more than fifty countries, some of which are facing actual or potential legal challenges for allowing such collusion. Thus the legal fate of Manning may no longer be the private domain of the USA but is now of significant interest to the justice systems of other countries and also of the international courts. Options are explored.
Details of what these non-US based legal interventions could involve (Section 3), together with an update on the current legal challenge on Manning’s behalf within the USA (Section 2), and background to Manning’s prosecution (Section 1), are given below.
Chelsea Manning leaked material that largely proved that the USA had committed war crimes (an example being the actions that took place as shown in the video above – the existence of which was a result of Manning’s leaks). This material was received by Wikileaks, which then partnered with several newspapers in the publishing of that material (see here and here).
Subsequent to the leaking of this material Manning was arrested and after more than three years in custody was arraigned before a military court. For part of those three years Manning was tortured (as attested by UN Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez).
At the court hearings it was shown that the material Manning leaked did not place US personnel at risk; indeed, the publication of that material led to what was later termed the ‘Arab Spring’ (which many argued served US global interests in the longer term). The leaked information also provided evidence of war crimes and violations of international law perpetrated by US soldiers and Pentagon-contracted corporate militias, such as Blackwater (whose employees were accused of massacring Iraqis and have since been convicted of murder) and KBR. In short, Manning’s only ‘crime’ was to embarrass and implicate powerful individuals on Wall Street, the US military and the White House (as well as the governments of other countries that were party to war crimes and related violations).
Nevertheless, in July 2013 Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Manning is a recipient of the Sean MacBride Peace Prize (MacBride was a founder of Amnesty International and Assistant General Secretary of the UN) and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She has received support from three Nobel Peace Prize winners (Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire-Corrigan and Adolfo Perez Esquivel) and many prominent ‘celebrities’ around the world. A campaign to free Manning is top of Amnesty International’s agenda.
In short, Chelsea Manning is considered to be America’s political prisoner par excellence.
The recent US Senate report on CIA torture based much of the information it revealed on the information Manning leaked and it could be argued that if it wasn’t for her the report may never have seen the light of day (even in a redacted form). The Senate report also implicated many countries around the world in the CIA rendition programme, that also included over 100 ‘black sites’ (interrogation centres). Again, if it was not for Manning – and the role of Wikileaks and the subsequent follow-up investigations by journalists and investigative researchers – much of this information may have remained hidden.
(See also Manning and Wikileaks report: https://info.publicintelligence.net/USArmy-WikiLeaksInvestigation.pdf.)
2. Legal challenges
Of the charges made against Manning, the main and most serious was that in leaking the material she was in violation of the Espionage act. However, according to Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward (who in December 2014 confirmed their legal representation of Manning): “The Espionage Act—always a poorly written and often-abused law—has now become little more than a trap to ensnare those who embarrass the government. Chelsea’s espionage conviction alone requires that she appeal her case, not only for her sake but for the sake of all Americans. The way the court interpreted the espionage charges in Chelsea’s case completely fails to distinguish between providing information to harm the United States and sharing information in the public interest.”
Hollander and Ward added: “Unless we act to reverse the misuse of this statute in Chelsea’s case, the stage has been set to incriminate any American whistleblower who reveals wrongdoing to the media. We also know Chelsea’s sentence is far, far too long. We know her constitutional rights were violated by her year of torturous and shameful pretrial solitary confinement and the government’s failure to provide her the speedy trial to which she was entitled. We know the military court prevented her from bringing to trial the witnesses she needed; she was denied access to crucial evidence and even the President of the United States declared her guilty before the first day of trial. All of these issues are grounds for overturning charges during appeals. We expect to discover even more grounds for appeals as we finish examining the trial record, which is the longest in military legal history.”
Thus the appeal is likely to cover points in law as well as the sentence imposed.
3. International legal action on behalf of Manning
With the fallout from the US Senate report on CIA torture affecting countries around the world, the opportunity has arisen for those countries, other than the USA, or global organisations (NGOs) to use the international courts to intervene in Manning’s fate. Any international legal action would be directed against the US Government (USG) with the most likely route via the International Courts of Justice (e.g. at the Hague). If an application was accepted on behalf of Manning the legal arguments could, presumably, try to show that Manning had been tortured while in custody and her human rights violated. The aim would be to have the US prosecution of Manning ruled as ‘biased’ and vexatious (i.e. political) and for the verdicts against her to be deemed unsafe.
Legal action against USG in the International Courts of Justice could include international NGOs (e.g. Amnesty International) or lobbying groups or SIGs (e.g. Wikileaks) or US-based organisations (e.g. the American Civil Liberties Union).
Of course, any verdict in the ICJ that goes in favour of Manning – e.g. that orders her release from prison – will have no legal bearing in the USA, though such a verdict would have huge symbolic significance.
Another possible, though unusual, route for a legal challenge to Manning’s verdict/sentence would be via the European Court of Human Rights, given that Manning is a dual UK/US citizen and has Welsh roots. UK lawyers could argue that the US verdict/sentence was in violation of Manning’s and her UK family’s human rights, given that Manning was imprisoned for essentially revealing war crimes. Again, any ECHR finding would be symbolic only, but nevertheless increase pressure on the US for early release.
Finally, any legal action should, of course, be accompanied by a heightened publicity campaign involving Manning’s prominent supporters, who will no doubt wish to use their talents and contacts to write about Manning in newspapers, explain why they support Manning on TV news and current affairs shows, or participate in benefit concerts and the like.
Thus 2015 may prove to be the year when those millions around the world who were and are appalled by Manning’s treatment at the hands of the US authorities see not just Manning released but completely exonerated and, furthermore, for whistleblowing redefined not as a crime but a badge of honour.