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Glenn Greenwald: Obama’s Comments on Bradley Manning Mark “Amazing Amount of Improper Influence” in WikiLeaks Case

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Military officials have announced alleged whistleblower U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who is suspected of leaking classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks, has been cleared to be held as a medium-security prisoner at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was just transferred. Up until last week, Manning was held in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. His treatment at Quantico was condemned by Amnesty International and led to a probe by a torture expert at the United Nations. We speak to Salon.com legal blogger and constitutional law attorney Glenn Greenwald, who revealed in December that Manning was being subjected to detention conditions likely to inflict long-term psychological injuries. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Military officials announced Thursday that accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning has been cleared to be held as a medium-security prisoner at Fort Leavenworth, where he was just transferred. Up until last week, the Army private was being held in solitary confinement at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. His treatment at Quantico was condemned by Amnesty International and led to a probe by a torture expert at the United Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest, Glenn Greenwald, revealed in December Bradley Manning was being subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injury. With an article called “The Inhumane Conditions of Bradley Manning’s Detention,” Greenwald helped spark the debate over Manning’s treatment that eventually led him to be transferred out of Quantico.

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer, blogger at Salon.com. He’s joining us here in New York.

And you had a little help from, well, the former State Department spokesperson, P.J. Crowley.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, I mean, he was clearly the tipping point for what brought this story into national and international prominence, because he’s the one who forced the President to address the issue, and he ultimately was forced to resign. And once it reaches that level, it becomes not just a big scandal, but one that is at the top level of political controversies.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what he did.

GLENN GREENWALD: He was in a small group meeting with internet writers and social activists in MIT, about 15 to 20 people, most of them students. And he was there to talk about the State Department’s promotion of internet freedom around the world. And one of the individuals who was there, an MIT student, had been reading lots about Manning and said, “Look, I think we need to address the elephant in the room,” he called it, “before we go on, which is the torture of Bradley Manning.” And without batting an eye, P.J. Crowley said, “That treatment is stupid, and it’s irresponsible and counterproductive.” And it was quite an extraordinary criticism for somebody in that position to make of government policy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Was his sense that that would get out at all, or was he figuring this was going to be a private, off-the-record conversation?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, you know, it’s hard to say. I mean, one of the impressive things is that he has made no attempt to walk it back. He lost his job over it. And even given that, he seems perfectly intent on continuing to defend the position. So whether he intended at the time for it to get out is impossible to say. These gatherings tend to be — give a feeling of intimacy, even though they’re on the record. And if he wanted to say it, there were lots of other better ways for him to do so. But clearly, he is not remorseful.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Bradley Manning, what happened at Quantico, and why he has been transferred.

GLENN GREENWALD: He was held at Quantico for eight months. The entire time, he was held in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, inside his cell, forbidden from exercising while inside his cell — a completely punitive and irrational restriction. The one hour a day that he had was to walk around by himself in a room shackled. And so, this is the kind of isolation and psychological torment that has broken large numbers of people in permanent ways. And that’s what led to all the controversy that you just described.

In response to that controversy, it just got too big of a scandal for the Obama administration, and they just yanked him out of Quantico, in essence, without warning and have now transferred him to Fort Leavenworth, where that’s a much larger and more regularized military prison. And the claim is, although we don’t know it’s true, that his treatment will be less oppressive. He’ll have more time out of his cell and more interaction with other people.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell appeared on MSNBC and defended the military’s treatment of Bradley Manning.

GEOFF MORRELL: The issue for him really is, he’s being held in the manner he’s being held because of the sever— the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence, the national security implications, and also the potential harm to him that he could do to himself or from others, frankly, you know, who are being imprisoned there, if he were allowed to mix with the general population. So this is as much for his own good as it is because of the charges.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this was from last month. Your response?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it’s just interesting, because he’s basically acknowledging that they’re using improper means. I mean, the idea that the seriousness of the offense warrants oppressive conditions is a violation in the law. The Uniform Military Code of Justice says you can’t punish people using pretrial detention. But the interesting thing is the justification for what they were doing to him was we need to do this to protect himself from himself and from other Marines and other people in the population. And yet, now, suddenly, they’re claiming that he’s going to be able to interact with the general population more. So what happened to all of those alleged concerns that they had that necessitated keeping him in isolation? They were clearly pretext.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what President Obama said in San Francisco? He was at a fundraiser. It was disrupted by people deeply concerned about what’s happening to Bradley Manning. He didn’t know he was being recorded. I think it was on a cell phone, and he said something like, “Well, he broke the law.”

GLENN GREENWALD: One of the cardinal rules of being a president is that you don’t decree private citizens guilty of crimes before they’ve been adjudicated of having been convicted of a crime. And amazingly, even John Mitchell, the most corrupt attorney general in American history, knew that, because Richard Nixon once stood up in the middle of the Charles Manson trial, who everyone thought was guilty, while the jurors were sequestered, and said, “He’s killed eight people.” And John Mitchell knew that was inappropriate, that you can’t do that, and forced Nixon to retract it. Here, it’s much worse for Obama to do that, because Bradley Manning is a member of the military under his command. The people who will decide his guilt are inferior officers to Obama as commander-in-chief. It’s an amazing amount of over and improper influence on the military process.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Glenn, recent information about the continuing criminal investigation that’s going on into the leaks, new subpoenas that seem to suggest some of the documents that the government is trying to ascertain to prove that Manning and Assange conspired even before he downloaded the material, to download the material — in other words, that Assange wasn’t just a passive recipient of the WikiLeaks documents, that he was actually conspiring to get them?

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. The problem the the DOJ faces in trying to prosecute WikiLeaks is how do you prosecute them, but then say that other newspapers like the New York Times and the Post that have published this information shouldn’t be prosecuted, as well. And their answer, according to the New York Times about six months ago, was that they were going to try and prove, as you just said, that they actually actively conspired with Manning to help him steal the documents and didn’t just get them passively afterwards. Meanwhile, there’s been no evidence that that’s the case. The Justice Department admits there’s no evidence. And what was disturbing about the subpoena, which I obtained, that was served on a Cambridge, Massachusetts, resident with connections to WikiLeaks, was that it’s clearly the grand jury is considering indictments under the Espionage Act, which would be the first time a non-government employee would be convicted under that for disclosing classified information and this conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence. They’re just desperate to prosecute.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation after the show and post it at democracynow.org. Glenn Greenwald, constitutional lawyer, blogger at Salon.com.

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