UPDATE Below – added March 13, 2013
Over two years ago, in January of 2011, Amnesty USA told me they were “investigating” if Bradley Manning qualified as a “Prisoner of Conscience”. They told me they weren’t sure about his motivations and they’d have to look at his employment contract. I was then dismayed to see that the LA Times editorial board, hardly a revolutionary group, came out with a strong denunciation of Manning’s barbaric pre-trial detention before Amnesty had made any public statement in his defence.
Members of the Pussy Riot band in Russia were jailed on February 21, 2012. Less than 2 months later, Amnesty declared them to be “prisoners of conscience” (POC).
The blazing speed with which Amnesty declared them Prisoners of Conscience prompted me to renew my inquiries about Manning. Almost all my emails went unanswered except for one in which no explanation was given though it was “hoped” that somebody from their “research team” would soon answer me.
Today, I was finally told by an Amnesty USA employee (after she consulted with their “expert” on the case) that they have still not named Manning a Prisoner of Conscience (POC) but that Amnesty is “still investigating” if he qualifies. She added that Amnesty is not yet certain of two criteria that must be met
- That Manning released information in a “responsible manner”
- That the government has been punishing him in order to prevent public knowledge of human rights abuses.
Given the gravity of the crimes exposed by Manning’s actions, it is actually hard to imagine a morally irresponsible way to divulge the information. But the fact is that Wikileaks took significant measures to avoid an indiscriminate release of information – to the point of partnering with a corporate media hopelessly compromised by a cozy relationship with war criminals. It does not take years of investigation to learn that Manning released information to an organization that did not indiscriminately dump information into the pubic domain.
Amnesty’s second doubt for withholding POC status from Manning is even more ridiculous. Amnesty would face intense ridicule, and rightfully so, if it claimed equally barbaric treatment dished out to whistleblowers in a country considered a rival or enemy of the West was not an attempt to prevent public knowledge of grave crimes.
This is far from being the first example of Amnesty’s deference to Western powers. In this exchange, Amnesty attempted to rationalize a double standard in which arming Syrian rebels was acceptable but not the arming of Palestinians resisting Israel’s occupation.
Amnesty has done, and I suspect will continue to do, work that people genuinely concerned with human rights consider extremely useful and important. That is no reason to neglect to hold them accountable for very serious shortcomings. Neglecting to do so will only contribute to making those shortcomings worse.
UPDATE – March 13
Daniel Ellsberg further demolishes Amnesty’s first excuse for not naming Manning a POC – Amnesty’s supposed uncertainty if Manning released information in a “responsible manner”:
“Manning was working within a ‘SCIF,’ which stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. To get into a SCIF, a soldier needs a clearance higher than top secret. This means he had access to the highest classified material, such as communications and signals intelligence. This means he could’ve put out information top secret and higher, and purposely chose not to do so.”