British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has described jailed US soldier Bradley Manning as a “gay hero” and has called for his release.
Manning, a 23-year-old gay US military intelligence analyst, was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed restricted material to the website WikiLeaks.
He has been jailed by the US military for almost a year without trial and faces a battery of charges, including “aiding the enemy” – a crime punishable by execution.
“It is alleged that he blew the whistle on war crimes and cover ups by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. If true, the man is a hero,” said Tatchell.
“He is a defender of democracy and human rights. His actions are based on the principle that citizens have a right to know what the government is doing in their name. Bradley should not be in prison. The charges against him should be dropped. Set him free. Put on trial those who killed innocent civilians and those who protected the perpetrators.”
Some of the material allegedly leaked by Manning includes video footage of a US Apache helicopter attack that gunned down 11 Iraqi civilians in 2007, including two Reuters journalists and men who had gone to the aid of the wounded. The video records US soldiers laughing and joking at the killings, and also insulting the victims.
“It is only (allegedly) thanks to Bradley Manning that we now know the truth about this slaughter of innocent civilians – and about the killings of hundreds of other civilians in unreported and undocumented incidents,” said Tatchell.
In April, more than 250 of America’s most eminent legal scholars signed a letter protesting against the mistreatment of Manning while he was detained in solitary confinement for nine months at Quantico military jail, arguing that his “degrading and inhumane conditions” were illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.
Following international outrage at his prison conditions, Manning was later that month moved to a medium-security facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Manning is a US citizen but also a British citizen via his Welsh mother. Tatchell slammed Britain’s coalition government for not offering him British consular support and for not making appeals to the US to improve his prison conditions.
“So much for the coalition’s professed commitment to human rights and civil liberties,” he said.