Nearly nine months after he was arrested for allegedly leaking classified material, including diplomatic cables, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was very much in the news this week. His supporters and attorney David Coombs continued to charge that the conditions of his confinement were overly harsh and punitive, while the Pentagon continued to deny that. Amnesty International protested the conditions and so did Rep. Dennis Kucinich, among many others. Coombs revealed that Manning did not, as some had suggested, have dual British citizenship. Manning, he said, was proud to be an American and an American soldier.
With Manning gaining wide attention today, it's worth recalling that two months ago he was largely forgotten. How did so much change?
Even amid the vast Cablegate coverage, as I trace in my new book The Age of WikiLeaks, Manning got little notice, although the blog FireDogLake kept on the case. Then, on December 15, Glenn Greenwald at Salon delivered a strong piece on Manning's "inhumane detention."
He charged that the conditions constituted "cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. "Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries." A key point: The private had not yet been convicted of anything.
Liberal blogs highlighted Greenwald's piece and two days later The Guardian carried a report on Manning's health "deteriorating." He was subject to some form of suicide watch, but it seemed to his attorney more punitive than necessary.
On December 19, Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, supplied some fresh details at his blog: "PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day. The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay. He receives each of his meals in his cell. He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets."
The same day, NBC Nightly News paid a visit to Manning's hometown in Oklahoma. A former Marine there said he should be executed. Others were not much more sympathetic. Lester Holt, the correspondent, suggested that some felt that the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy then in effect might have contributed to Manning's decision to break ranks.
Four days later, David House, who had befriended Manning, filed a report at FireDogLake (which had been following the soldier's plight closer than any site) on his recent visits with Bradley Manning at Quantico. He contradicted many of the military's claims about his treatment.
On December 27, Glenn Greenwald revived a key component of the Manning saga, by ripping Wired for a "journalistic disgrace... For more than six months, Wired's Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen has possessed -- but refuses to publish -- the key evidence in one of the year's most significant political stories: the arrest of US Army PFC Bradley Manning for allegedly acting as WikiLeaks' source... This has long ago left the realm of mere journalistic failure and stands as one of the most egregious examples of active truth-hiding by a 'journalist' I've ever seen." Of course, he was referring to the unpublished portions of the Manning-Adrian Lamo chat logs.
The following day, Wired editor Evan Hansen and senior editor Poulsen responded separately. "It's odd to find myself in the position of writing a defense of someone who should be held up as a model," Hansen wrote, referring to Poulsen. "But it is unfortunately necessary, thanks to the shameless and unjustified personal attacks he's faced." Bottom line: Hansen still refused to print the full chat logs, citing privacy concerns, but said he might do it in the future.
Greenwald quickly responded, again pointing out that Lamo had made claims about Manning's direct contacts with Assange that were not borne out by the published chat logs. He concluded: "Ultimately, what determines one's credibility is not the names you get called or the number of people who get angry when you criticize them. What matters is whether the things you say are well-supported and accurate, to correct them if they're not, and to subject yourself to the same accountability and transparency you demand of others."
In any event, the exchanges sparked an important update by the Wired editors. They revealed that they had reviewed the chat logs and found no unpublished Manning references to Assange. This seemed to undermine some of Lamo's claims and might make it harder to prosecute Assange in this matter.
Then, on January 3, Manning's lawyer Coombs hinted that he would soon file motion to dismiss the charges against Manning due to lack of a speedy trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Two days later, on the Democracy Now! radio program, well-known writer Dr. Atul Gawande, referring to the Manning case, said, "People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture." More than 30,000 people signed a petition on Manning's behalf.
As charges of cruel treatment of Manning continued, a Pentagon spokesman responded by describing the prisoner's confinement as "maximum," not "solitary," since others were incarcerated nearby and he did get to watch some TV and see visitors -- and was being treated like others in the unit. David Coombs challenged this assessment, charging that Manning, in fact, was the only prisoner in "maximum" custody while others were held in "medium" detention.
And the protests continued.