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Bradley Manning: the Welsh connection

Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst, has been in custody and held in solitary confinement since May 2010, when he was arrested in Iraq on suspicion of leaking the Collateral Murder video. The video shows the July 2007 US attack in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, shot from the gun-sight of one of the US Apache helicopters involved. Around a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, were killed. Two children in a van driven by a rescue party were seriously injured in a further US attack. The US initially claimed that all the dead were Iraqi 'insurgents' and that the killings took place in a 'battle'. Reuters had been trying to obtain the footage from the primary helicopter involved since August 2007, but it was WikiLeaks that eventually released the video evidence of what really happened that day.

Bradley Manning has been charged with leaking this footage. He was initially held in Kuwait before being moved to a military jail in Virginia, US. He is also suspected of being the source of the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War Logs and 250,000 previously secret diplomatic cables to and from US embassies around the world.

Until Julian Assange hit the headlines big time a few weeks ago, Bradley Manning's name and his plight had been barely mentioned in the mainstream British media once the initial interest in the release of the Collateral Murder video had died down. Manning has been even less frequently referred to by members of Britain's anti-war movement, something that can and should change, especially here in Wales given Bradley Manning's close connections: his mother is Welsh and his early teenage years were spent here.

Bradley's Welsh mother Susan met his American father while Brian Manning was serving in the US Navy and stationed at the nearby Cawdor barracks. The couple married and moved to the US, where Bradley was born in Crescent, Oklahoma.

Bradley Manning is not Crescent's first major whistleblower. The Kerr-McGee Plutonium plant near Crescent manufactured pellets used to make fuel rods for nuclear power stations. It was here in 1974 that a young union activist, Karen Silkwood, having already raised concerns with the Atomic Energy Commission, died in mysterious circumstances while driving to meet a New York Times journalist to show him a dossier of documents allegedly exposing widespread health and safety violations and serious contamination risks at the plant. After the accident, the dossier had apparently disappeared from Karen's car and was never found. Kerr-McGee closed down its nuclear plants the following year. A subsequent civil action taken on behalf of Karen Silkwood by her surviving relatives was to become the longest civil trial in Oklahoma's history.

So, it was in Crescent, Oklahoma with this background that Bradley spent the greater part of his childhood. However, when he was 13 his parents separated and Bradley moved back to Wales with his mother. They lived in Haverfordwest and Bradley went to high school here for three years before returning to the US. He followed his father into the military aged 18. Bradley's mother and his extended maternal family still live in south west Wales. In August 2010, some months after Bradley's arrest, FBI agents accompanied by a Welsh Police sergeant turned up unannounced at his mother's home, interrogated Susan Manning, who is in ill health following a series of strokes, and searched Bradley's bedroom before leaving Susan in a distressed state after her sister intervened and demanded that the police and FBI should leave.

While serving in Iraq in 2009/10, it appears that Bradley became increasingly disillusioned with his work and with the US military. If the evidence of the journalist and ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, who reported Bradley to the US authorities, is to be believed, Bradley sought Lamo's opinion on leaking confidential information during an on-line conversation between the two: "Hypothetical question - If you had free reign [sic] over classified networks for long periods of time, say, 8-9 months, and you saw incredible things, awful things, things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC, what would you do?"

It appears that Bradley Manning made his choice and the results of this are now ricocheting around the world. Bradley, meanwhile, has just 'celebrated' his twenty-third birthday in solitary confinement in a military jail in Virginia, being held in conditions which are inhumane and could be considered to amount to torture. According to David E. Coombs, Bradley Manning's lead civilian attorney, Bradley's 'home' is a 12' x 6' cell without sheets, pillows and devoid of any personal effects, from which he is released for just one hour of 'exercise' each day, during which time he is allowed to walk, and only walk, round and round a different room. He is not allowed to exercise in his own cell. Bradley has been incarcerated for seven months now and may spend the rest of his life in jail. On 18 December, the Independent reported that Bradley is likely to be put under intense pressure to enter into a plea bargain with his accusers, to place WikiLeaks' Julian Assange in the frame in return for an agreed fixed term sentence for himself. Meanwhile, the Guardian two days earlier reported on Bradley Manning's desperate circumstances and his deteriorating mental and physical health.

Bradley Manning needs our solidarity and support now more than ever. I will examine the arguments and possibilities for a Welsh solidarity campaign for Bradley Manning in another article. For now, though, here are a couple of suggestions:

Firstly, take a few minutes to write to Bradley Manning. The small act of solidarity in sending a letter or card means a lot to a political prisoner, one indication that the world has not forgotten them. Christmas is coming and it was Bradley Manning's 23rd birthday on 17 December. You can send letters, cards and postcards to: Bradley Manning, c/o Courage to Resist, 484 Lake Park Ave #41, Oakland CA 94610, United States. Letters will be opened, "contraband" discarded and the letters then mailed in a weekly package to Bradley via an individual currently on his approved correspondence list.

Secondly, familiarise yourself with Bradley Manning's story. If we're going to have any sort of solidarity campaign, we need to know the details and the issues, to understand what's at stake and to share this information with others. Please take the time to read about Bradley Manning. This article by Denver Nicks has a lot of background details, while the Bradley Manning solidarity website has details on the campaign to support him and secure his release.