Friday, December 17, 2010
Frankly, this smacks of desperation. Manning's credibility would be destroyed if he entered into such an agreement, but the Justice Department may be relying upon a nationalistic jury to look past it. Furthermore, Assange's attorneys would be permitted to cross-examine Manning about his harsh conditions of his confinement as well, casting more doubt upon any incriminating statements, unless the judge sharply circumscribed the ability of Assange's attorneys to question him. Of course, there is no guarantee that, even if Manning provided the desired testimony, it would be sufficient to support a verdict against Assange. In any event, there is no indication to date that Manning is cooperating with prosecutors.
US authorities have stepped up their efforts to prosecute Julian Assange by offering Bradley Manning, the American soldier allegedly responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents, the possibility of a plea bargain if he names the Wiki-Leaks founder as a fellow conspirator.
The development follows claims by Mr Assange's supporters that a grand jury has been secretly empanelled in northern Virginia to consider indicting the wikileaks chief. But the US Justice Department has refused to comment on any grand jury activity.
As Mr Assange arrived last night at the East Anglia mansion after his release from a London prison on bail, he said he considered the threat of US legal action to be extremely serious even though they have yet to be confirmed. He told Sky News: We have heard today from one of my US lawyers that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me coming from a secret grand jury investigation. There are obviously serious attempts to take down the content by taking us down as an organisation and taking me down as an individual.
American officials view persuading Pte Manning to give evidence that Mr Assange encouraged him to disseminate classified Pentagon and State Department files as crucial to any prospect of extraditing him for a successful prosecution. To facilitate that, Pte Manning may be moved from military to civilian custody, they say. Since being charged in July with disseminating a US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed 17 people in Iraq including two Reuters employees, the soldier has been held at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. But members of his support network insist that he has not co-operated with the authorities since his arrest in May.
And, we are getting more and more troubling information about precisely what is happening to Manning, and, in addition, his supporters on the outside:
Reminicsent of the effort that placed Leonard Peltier behind bars, the US government effort against Manning and Assange is going to be relentless. And, as with Peltier, the prospect of the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence exercising its independence and ordering their release, if the US eventually extradites Assange here, is nil.
According to David House, a computer researcher from Boston who visits Manning twice a month, he is starting to deteriorate. Over the last few weeks I have noticed a steady decline in his mental and physical wellbeing, he said. His prolonged confinement in a solitary holding cell is unquestionably taking its toll on his intellect; his inability to exercise due to [prison] regulations has affected his physical appearance in a manner that suggests physical weakness.
Manning, House added, was no longer the characteristically brilliant man he had been, despite efforts to keep him intellectually engaged. He also disputed the authorities' claims that Manning was being kept in solitary for his own good.
I initially believed that his time in solitary confinement was a decision made in the interests of his safety, he said. As time passed and his suicide watch was lifted, to no effect, it became clear that his time in solitary – and his lack of a pillow, sheets, the freedom to exercise, or the ability to view televised current events – were enacted as a means of punishment rather than a means of safety.
House said many people were reluctant to talk about Manning's condition because of government harassment, including surveillance, warrantless computer seizures, and even bribes. This has had such an intimidating effect that many are afraid to speak out on his behalf, House said.
Some friends report being followed extensively. Another computer expert said the army offered him cash to – in his words – infiltrate the wikileaks website. He said: I turned them down. I don't want anything to do with this cloak and dagger stuff.
When the Washington Post tried to investigate the claim, an army criminal investigation division spokesman refused to comment. We've got an ongoing investigation, he said. We don't discuss our techniques and tactics.
On 3 November, House, 23, said he found customs agents waiting for him when he and his girlfriend returned to the US after a short holiday in Mexico. His bags were searched and two men identifying themselves as Homeland Security officials said they were being detained for questioning and would miss their connecting flight. The men seized all his electronic items and he was told to hand over all passwords and encryption keys – which he refused. The items have yet to be returned, said House. He added: If Manning is convicted, it will be because his individual dedication to human ethics far surpasses that of the US government.