By Kristen Saloomey
While the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, fights his legal battles in front of the cameras (or from the palatial estate in Britain where he is under "house arrest") the American soldier accused of releasing secret US government documents to him remains hidden from public view. Army Private Bradley Manning has spent seven months in solitary confinement in a military prison in Virginia, waiting for his day in court.
I recently travelled to Manning's hometown of Crescent Oklahoma, to try to get a sense of who he is and where he came from.
I also spoke by e-mail with David House, who describes himself as a Boston-based computer researcher and friend of Manning. According to House, the conditions of Manning’s confinement are starting to take their toll. He also says a lot of Manning’s supporters are being harassed by the authorities. Here are some excerpts from our email exchange:
Question: How do you know Bradley? What is he like?
House: I'm a computer researcher in Boston, and Bradley and I have many mutual friends. When the story first broke of his arrest, it looked as if his right to due process was in jeopardy. I got involved with what would become the Bradley Manning Support Network in order to raise legal funding for Bradley's defense, and to ensure that his due process was not violated. Like many computer scientists, I self-identify with the positive open-government issues at the core of this case.
I travel to see Bradley twice a month, to check up on his well-being and keep him intellectually engaged. He is characteristically a brilliant person; over the last few weeks, though, I have noticed a steady decline in his mental and physical well-being. His prolonged confinement in a solitary holding cell is unquestionably taking its toll on his intellect; his inability to exercise due to brig regulations has affected his physical appearance in a manner that suggests physical weakness.
Question: Have you been questioned by authorities about Bradley?
House: For association with Bradley's legal defense campaign, the FBI seized my personal computer on a flight into the states. They have not returned the computer and have offered no compensation in return.
Question: What do you and Bradley's other friends in the Boston area think of the case and the issues it raises?
House: Friends of Bradley in the Boston area have largely been very supportive of his alleged actions. However, government harrassment of his Boston-area friends - in the form of ongoing surveillance, warrantless computer seizures, and even bribes - has had such an intimidating effect that many are afraid to speak out on his behalf. I feel, in earnest, that such government intimidation should not be tolerated by citizens of a free society, and I'm calling on those supporters who fear retribution - and those who have already suffered the loss of their privacy and property - to stand and be counted in their support of Pfc. Manning.
Kristen Saloomey is Al Jazeera's correspondent in New York.
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