Wearing T-shirts and carrying signs bearing the smiling image of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, hundreds of people rallied Sunday outside the base where he’s being detained on charges of providing classified data to Wikileaks.
About 35 people were arrested by police in riot gear after they refused to vacate an intersection in front of the entrance to Marine Corps Base Quantico. The rally was held along with more than two dozen others around the world to protest Manning’s detention in Quantico’s brig.
Manning is confined alone in his cell for all but an hour a day. Each night, he is stripped naked and given a suicide-proof smock to wear to bed. His lawyer has called the treatment degrading, and Amnesty International says it may violate his human rights.
David House, a friend who has visited Manning about 15 times since September, told the crowd that Manning appreciated their support.
“It’s stuff like this that gives Bradley hope,” House said. “When I go in there, look him in the eyes and say, ’Bradley, there are people on the outside that support you,’ his eyes light up.”
President Barack Obama and military officials contend that Manning is being held under appropriate conditions given the seriousness of the charges against him. He faces nearly two dozen charges, including aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty or life in prison. Army prosecutors, however, have told Manning’s lawyers that they will not recommend the death penalty.
Earlier this month, chief State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned after criticizing the handling of Manning’s detention as “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” Some demonstrators carried signs praising Crowley’s comments.
Daniel Ellsberg, a Manning supporter who leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971, said that solitary confinement is “a form of torture, and as such, it’s illegal internationally and domestically.”
“It’s happening right here to an American soldier in an American brig,” Ellsberg said.
Ellsberg was one of the protesters arrested Sunday amid chants of “Free Bradley Manning.” Officers methodically handcuffed protesters and led them away one by one after they refused to leave U.S. Route 1 in front of the base.
Short scuffles ensued as dozens of officers attempted to push the protesters, some of whom were seated on the pavement, away from the intersection. Many sat beneath a yellow banner that read, “Caution: Whistleblower Torture Zone.”
Prince William County police said in a statement late Sunday that about 35 people were taken into custody and charged with unlawful assembly and careless interference with traffic. One protester was also charged with assault and battery of an officer.
The heavy police presence at the rally included officers from six agencies, mounted officers and tactical vehicles.
Ellsberg and five other protest leaders wanted to lay flowers at an Iwo Jima memorial at the base’s entrance but were kept about 40 feet away by police who had set up barriers. Col. Thomas V. Johnson, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, said access to the memorial was denied because protest activity is not permitted on base grounds.
“We’re pleased that people were able to express their First Amendment rights in a manner that did not infringe upon base property,” Johnson said.
Manning, a former intelligence analyst and self-styled “hactivist,” is accused of leaking a raft of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, more than 250,000 confidential State Department cables and a military video of an attack on unarmed men in Iraq.
Ellsberg, former military analyst who revealed the Pentagon’s secret history of the Vietnam war, said the Wikileaks cables played a role in sparking the protests that overturned authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. He said that if Manning is responsible for the leaks, he’s a hero.
“He had the courage and the conscience to carry out his oath to the Constitution,” Ellsberg said.