The United Nations special rapporteur on torture has just submitted his findings on Washington's prolonged and controversial detention of WikiLeaks hero Bradley Manning. Simply put, he has concluded that the punitive conditions imposed on him, before being pronounced guilty, amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The former U.S. intelligence analyst has been under incarceration since May 2010 for allegedly having leaked secret State Department cables to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Mr. Manning is charged with over 20 offences, of which that of aiding the enemy could even attract the death penalty. The United States government has hampered investigations into his treatment — including solitary confinement for eight months, ostensibly to prevent him from causing harm to himself. Significantly, the U.N. special rapporteur, Juan Mendez, who has concluded his 14-month investigation, was denied a private interview with the detainee. The findings, which form part of his report last week to the U.N. Human Rights Council, is the latest attempt to elicit U.S. cooperation in the investigations into Mr. Manning's incarceration. Earlier, over 50 members of the European Parliament and hundreds of American legal scholars had written to the U.S. Congress noting that 17 months had elapsed in bringing the accused before a pre-trial court.
Mr. Manning's treatment is reminiscent of the Central Intelligence Agency's infamous enhanced interrogation techniques used with impunity during the Bush era against detainees at Guantanamo. Significantly, the White House today is guilty of supporting the very kind of extra-judicial methods that Barack Obama the candidate pledged to end and even outlaw in the run up to the 2008 elections. While the Bush administration at least allowed the Red Cross to have access to Guantanamo inmates, the current administration has taken a step back in refusing to allow the U.N. rapporteur to meet privately with Mr. Manning. The Manning case is proof yet again of the hypocrisy and double standards that govern Washington's attitude towards human rights and the rule of law. Equally disturbing, from the point of view of international precedent, is the fact that Washington seems intent on making an example of someone who is essentially a whistleblower. The financial targeting of WikiLeaks is of a piece with the same vindictive mindset. States are entitled to protect their secrets and punish those who break the law. But there is a line they must not cross in trying to do so. In the Manning case, the U.S. has crossed that line.