Skip to main content

Bradley Manning

Volume 526: debated on Monday 4 April 2011

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Newmark.)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this issue, because it is important that the case is raised here in the House of Commons. I want to talk about the treatment of Bradley Manning. An early-day motion on this subject—early-day motion1624—stands in my name and is currently supported by 37 right hon. and hon. Members, and I hope that others will add their names.

I wish to speak this evening in terms very similar terms to those of the early-day motion, which reads as follows:

“That this House expresses great concern at the treatment of Private First Class Bradley Manning, currently detained at the US Quantico Marine Base; notes the increasing level of interest and concern in the case in the UK and in particular in Wales; appeals to the US administration to ensure that his detention conditions are humane; and calls on the UK Government to raise the case with the US administration.”

That is what I want to expand on in this short debate. I want to explain why I am so concerned about Bradley Manning’s case and why others should be too, and I want to ask the Minister to undertake to raise the case with the US Administration.

Bradley Manning is the US soldier imprisoned at the US marine base at Quantico, Virginia. He is accused of being the person responsible for the leaking of the US Government information—about Iraq and about Afghanistan, and from US embassies around the world—that was released into the public domain through the website WikiLeaks. Bradley Manning is a serving member of the US armed forces and he is detained in a military prison. It is important for us to note that he has yet to be convicted of any offence—I am not sure whether there is a confirmed trial date, but I understand that it will not be until May or June.

Like me, the Minister will want to be careful about describing the actions of which Bradley Manning is accused, because we have yet to have Bradley’s account and he has still to have that account considered by a court. That is why I do not want us to get drawn into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of the WikiLeaks revelations. However, I would like to concentrate on the current conditions of detention for Bradley Manning. I have read the several accounts of Bradley’s treatment which have appeared in the press. Some very good accounts that have appeared in The Guardian have come from David Leigh, in particular, but the one that I paid most attention to was the one from Bradley himself. On 10 March, in an 11-page memorandum from Bradley Manning to the commanding officer of the Quantico marine base, issued through his lawyer, Bradley Manning described for us the conditions of his detention. This is what he said:

“Since 2 March 2011, I have been stripped of all my clothing at night. I have been told that the PCF commander intends on continuing this practice indefinitely. Initially, after surrendering my clothing to the brig guards, I had no choice but to lay naked in my cold jail cell until the following morning. The next morning I was told to get out of my bed for the morning duty brig supervisor (DBS) inspection. I was not given any of my clothing back. I got out of the bed and immediately started to shiver because of how cold it was in my cell. I walked towards the front of my cell with my hands covering my genitals. The guard told me to stand at parade rest, which required me to stand with my hands behind my back and my legs spaced shoulder width apart. I stood at ‘parade rest’ for about three minutes until the DBS arrived. Once the DBS arrived, everyone was called to attention. The DBS and the other guards walked past my cell. The DBS looked at me, paused for a moment, and then continued to the next detainee’s cell. I was incredibly embarrassed at having all these people stare at me naked. After the DBS completed his inspection, I was told to go and sit on my bed. About 10 minutes later I was given my clothes and allowed to get dressed…Under my current restrictions, in addition to being stripped at night, I am essentially held in solitary confinement. For 23 hours per day, I sit alone in my cell. The guards check on me every five minutes during the day by asking me if I am OK. I am required to respond in some affirmative manner.”

No, I do not yet know that, but I think that it will be in a couple of months’ time.

Bradley Manning’s account continued:

“At night, if the guards cannot see me clearly, because I have a blanket over my head or I am curled up towards the wall, they will wake me in order to ensure that I am OK…I am prevented from exercising in my cell. If I attempt to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise I am forced to stop. Finally, I receive only one hour of exercise outside of my cell daily. My exercise is usually limited to me walking figures of eight in an empty room.”

We also learn from this memorandum, issued through his lawyer, that his treatment ignores the repeated recommendations of the Marine Corps’ own appointed psychiatrists. They repeatedly say that Bradley Manning’s detention status should be changed. That treatment serves no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade Bradley Manning. I regard it as cruel and unnecessary.

Bradley Manning calls his conditions “improper treatment” and “unlawful pre-trial punishment”. Human Rights Watch has called on the US Government to

“explain the precise reasons behind extremely restrictive and possibly punitive and degrading treatment that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning alleges he has received”.

Amnesty International has said:

“Manning is being subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This is particularly disturbing when one considers that he hasn’t even been brought to trial, let alone convicted of a crime”.

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who I have spoken to in the House of Commons about the case, has officially raised his concerns with the US Administration and is awaiting a response.

We have not only those views but a view from inside the US Administration. Until recently, P. J. Crowley was the spokesman for the US State Department. He was a senior and well respected official and a career member of the US armed forces. Early in March he was forced to resign following comments he made about the treatment of Bradley Manning at a university seminar. He called the treatment of Bradley Manning “ridiculous”, “counterproductive” and “stupid”.

Since his resignation, P. J. Crowley has gone on to explain why he said what he did, including in a column in The Guardian last week. He says:

“As a public diplomat and (until recently) spokesman of the department of state, I was responsible for explaining the national security policy of the United States to the American people and populations abroad. I am also a retired military officer who has long believed that our civilian power must balance our military power. Part of our strength comes from international recognition that the United States practises what we preach.”

He goes on:

“Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review.”

Finally, he says:

“So, when I was asked…I said the treatment of Private Manning, while well-intentioned, was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘counterproductive’ and, yes, ‘stupid’.

I stand by what I said.”

In the article and the interviews he has given, P. J. Crowley—a career US military and Government man—sets out why Bradley Manning’s case is important. It is important because of the message it sends to the rest of the world about what kind of treatment the United States thinks is acceptable for people in detention. As for us, it is important what we say—or what we do not say—because of the message that it sends about the kind of treatment we in the United Kingdom and in the UK Government think is acceptable. That matters in countries where human rights are not so well observed. People will pay attention in China, in Russia, in Libya, where we want to be on the side of those fighting for freedom from state repression, and most of all in Afghanistan. The image that Britain and the US have in the world matters to the UK and US service personnel fighting in Afghanistan.

I know that only too well from my experience in Iraq as special envoy on human rights over a seven-year period. In my view some of the greatest damage was caused to British and American efforts in Iraq when the stories of prisoner abuse emerged. It undermined our moral authority at a time when we needed to explain that we were fighting for a better future for Iraq, free from the torture and abuse suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The United States and the UK, in the way we respond to US actions, need to preserve that moral authority if we are to have a positive impact on the world and lead by example.

So what am I asking the Minister to do? Let me address the issue of British nationality, because it seems to me to have been something of a red herring. I am not raising Bradley Manning’s case because he is a British national but because I believe his treatment is cruel and unnecessary and that we should say so. I am also chair of the all-party group on human rights and so I often raise human rights cases from around the world. They might be in Burma, Chechnya, East Timor, China, or, sadly, too many other places besides. I do not raise them because they involve British citizens, but because they involve human rights abuses or wrongdoing and because I am in politics because I want to do something to try to stop those things happening.

I want the British Government to raise Bradley Manning’s treatment with the US Administration because his treatment is cruel and unnecessary and we should be saying so. We cannot deny, however, that Bradley’s connection to the UK adds an additional dimension. Bradley’s mother, Susan, is Welsh and lives in Pembrokeshire. Bradley lived and went to school in Wales between the ages of 13 and 17. There is a great deal of interest in the UK, and in particular in Wales, in Bradley’s case and much of that is grounded in his close connection to the UK. Both London and Wrexham have seen protests against Bradley Manning’s treatment, and I pay tribute to those people in the UK who have raised his case.

Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify, on the record, just what the position is with regard to British nationality. My understanding is that under the British Nationality Act 1981 anyone born outside the UK after 1 January 1983 who has a mother who is a UK citizen by birth is British by descent. Perhaps the Minister will assist us by confirming that that is the case. I am aware that Bradley Manning’s lawyer has issued a statement that Bradley is not asserting any kind of UK nationality. I know that, but from the point of view of British law, is it the case that Bradley Manning qualifies for British nationality?

I shall mention briefly the British aspect of the case, which concerns Bradley’s mother and family in Wales. I have met some of Bradley’s family—his aunt and uncle—and I am in contact with them. This will be an exceptionally hard time for Bradley Manning’s family, not just for his mother and family in Wales, but for his father and that side of his family in the United States. He is accused of the gravest of crimes which, according to some reports, can attract the death penalty, and there is intense media interest in Bradley, in anything to do with WikiLeaks and in the information that was revealed about the US Government.

Part of Bradley’s family live in Pembrokeshire and their son is in a military prison in Virginia in the US. They are being contacted by journalists, campaigners and politicians who are trying to raise the case. This is a difficult situation for any family to deal with. What kind of consular, official or other support could be made available to Bradley’s mother and family? When they visit Bradley in the US, for example, can they expect assistance from British embassy staff in the US? Can they receive advice and assistance in understanding the charges faced by their son, and perhaps advice, too, about the issue of British nationality?

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I hope that in his reply he does not say that we do not know what Bradley Manning’s conditions are. We have his own statement, backed by his lawyer, from which I read earlier. I am sure the Minister will not try to defend the harsh treatment that Bradley Manning is experiencing because of the gravity of the charges. That is beside the point. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not try to say that as he is not a British citizen, it is not appropriate to raise Bradley Manning’s case with the US Administration, because we raise cases with other countries all the time. I hope he will not fail to acknowledge that Bradley Manning’s having lived for a time in the UK, and given that his mother and that side of his family are British, creates an additional obligation on the Government to act in that family’s best interests.

I hope that the Minister can give two undertakings tonight—first, that the British Government will officially raise the case with the US Administration, and secondly, that the Government will consider what support they could provide to the British family of Bradley Manning as they try to do whatever they can to help Bradley.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing the debate, which is of considerable interest not just to a number of right hon. and hon. Members but to her constituents and others in Wales, as well as to the country as a whole. The right hon. Lady is deservedly well respected for her understanding and championing of human rights. Her work in Afghanistan and Iraq is widely admired.

As the Foreign Secretary said last week during the launch of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s report on human rights:

“Our government promised from the outset a foreign policy that will always have support for human rights and poverty reduction at its irreducible core. It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests.”

I therefore welcome this chance to discuss matters that give rise to concern among Members of the House. Although recent events in the middle east and north Africa continue to demand the attention of my ministerial colleagues, it is important that we do not lose sight of developments elsewhere in the world, including in the countries that are closest to us.

The right hon. Lady makes a number of points about the treatment of Private Manning, including those from a memo of 10 March 2011 from Private Manning to his commanding officer, released by Private Manning’s lawyer. I have read the memo and have listened carefully to the different points that the right hon. Lady has made, including allegations of mistreatment in detention.

Her Majesty’s Government are committed to working towards the eradication of mistreatment that may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We do not condone its use for any purposes. We take allegations extremely seriously and, where appropriate, raise general and specific concerns with foreign Governments. That is why we fund work to support professional and ethical policing. We also fund human rights approaches to prison management and initiatives to support a robust legal system and civil society, including an independent judiciary, which all contribute to tackling mistreatment.

As far as Her Majesty’s Government are concerned, the conditions in which an individual is detained must meet international standards. Conditions that fail to meet this standard may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This is particularly important for an individual in pre-trial detention. The manner in which a detainee is held depends on an objective assessment of the security risk posed by that individual, their health and their behaviour in prison. This must be justified by the detaining authority. In general, we are content that conditions in the US detention system meet international standards and that there is a clear legal process for a detainee to be able to challenge their conditions of detention.

In this case, President Obama himself has said that he has sought and received assurances from the Department of Defence that Private Manning’s treatment is “appropriate” and meets US “basic standards”. Of course, the United States has an effective and robust judicial system. It is a champion of human rights the world over. However, where crimes are alleged to have occurred they must be investigated. This is currently the case. The fact that we have seen the memo from Private Manning to his commanding officer is evidence that his legal representation is working. We must allow the legal case to follow its course without interference.

Where representatives of this House or members of the public have concerns, we have a duty to listen. On 16 March the right hon. Lady raised her concerns about Private Manning’s treatment with the Foreign Secretary during the oral evidence session of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and on 17 March she repeated her call for discussion of the issue during business questions. Be assured that we are in no doubt of her concerns, which we know are shared by a number of Members across the House. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has already received more than 30 letters from Members of the House.

In line with the Foreign Secretary’s response to the right hon. Lady during the Foreign Affairs Committee evidence session, a senior official in our embassy in Washington called on the US State Department on 29 March. He drew its attention to her concerns over Private Manning and handed over a copy of the uncorrected transcript of the Committee’s oral evidence session and a copy of her early-day motion 1624, which was tabled on 17 March. He also drew attention to the debate taking place today as a measure of the level of parliamentary interest in the subject. The State Department took note and agreed to convey the information to all those dealing with the case. Our US interlocutors know that where we have concerns we will raise them. The strength of our relationship empowers us to discuss difficult issues and we will continue to raise concerns where and when necessary. However, let us be clear that President Obama has stated that he has received assurances that Private Manning’s treatment is meeting basic standards.

I know that there will be many who feel that we should do more in the light of reports of Private Manning’s links to the UK. The UK Government have a duty to protect his privacy and as such it would not be appropriate to discuss his nationality without his consent. I note that his lawyer wrote on his blog on 2 February:

“Private… Manning does not hold a British passport, nor does he consider himself a British citizen”.

Therefore, it is clear that he is neither asking for our help, nor considering himself to be British. Although I have said that we do not normally discuss a person’s nationality without their consent, I will say that the right hon. Lady’s understanding of the British Nationality Act 1981 is accurate. Any person born outside the UK after 1 January 1983 whose mother is a UK citizen by birth is British by descent.

May I, from the Government Benches, urge the Minister to convey to our American friends and allies that those of us who believe that, if Private Manning is guilty of the leakage of which he is charged, he did a very terrible thing indeed, are nevertheless convinced that it is fatal to snatch defeat from the jaws of a sort-of victory by focusing attention on the conditions in which he is being held, rather than on the question of the guilt or innocence of his conduct? The word “counter-productive” should be at the forefront of our American allies’ minds when they consider how to treat him.

I thank my hon. Friend for his very wise remarks. He is a candid friend of our American allies, and his points are very well made. All people who are detained in custody deserve to be treated in detention according to the highest international standards, and we certainly expect nothing else—nothing less—from the United States.

To return to the point about Private Manning’s nationality, we must respect his wishes on the matter and recognise the limitations on UK involvement. The right hon. Lady mentions Mr Manning’s family. We have not had a direct request from them, but obviously, if it comes to consular assistance of any kind, we will look at that request as and when one is made.

Private Manning is serving in the US armed forces and has been detained in the US while he is subject to legal proceedings. He has access to legal counsel who, from the reports I have seen, appear to be very active in defending his case. That case is ongoing, and we are confident in this instance that US judicial processes are sound.

In the light of the right hon. Lady’s representations tonight, I will instruct our officials at our embassy in Washington again to report the concerns of this House to officials in the State Department. I will also discuss with the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, who has responsibility for north America, what else we might be able to do, while respecting the views of Private Manning and his legal counsel.

I can assure the right hon. Lady that we are concerned: we have listened very carefully to what she has said before; I have listened to what she has said tonight; and, as I assured her a moment ago, in response to that we will instruct our officials at our embassy in Washington again to report our concerns to officials in the State Department.

Once again, I thank the right hon. Lady for raising the issue. I hope that what I have said is of some help and of some interest to her.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.