How Amnesty has let down Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning has been imprisoned solely because he has embarrassed a superpower.

United States Army

Why has Amnesty International refused to declare Bradley Manning a prisoner of conscience?

A few weeks ago, I put that very question to the human rights organization. My question was eventually answered but only after I wrote a column for the weekly paper New Europe criticizing Amnesty for not launching a major campaign in support of Manning.

Nicolas Beger, head of Amnesty’s Brussels office, responded by saying that “we are simply not yet in a position to conclude whether Mr. Manning should be regarded as a prisoner of conscience, without knowing more about the specific allegations and evidence, his motives and how his case is prosecuted.”

Beger explained that Amnesty will be sending an observer to Manning’s trial which is scheduled to begin in June: “It is common practice for Amnesty International to reach a decision in complex cases only once it has examined all the issues at the trial. If a government seeks to punish someone for releasing, in a responsible manner and for reasons of conscience, information that he or she reasonably believed to be evidence of human rights violations that the government was attempting to keep secret, this would typically be grounds for Amnesty International to consider the person a prisoner of conscience.”


The explanation is not convincing. Contrary to what Beger suggests, there is nothing complex among Manning’s case. The soldier has been imprisoned for three years now because he caused an embarrassment for a superpower.

His motives for doing so were spelled out in a statement that he made at a pre-trial hearing earlier this year. Manning released a trove of documents to WikiLeaks because he was horrified by the “bloodlust” of the US army captured on the “Collateral Murder” video — which shows an attack on unarmed civilians in Iraq — and hoped that the American public would be similarly outraged.

Amnesty’s website indicates that it has made a handful of appeals relating to Manning’s case. Most of these were issued in 2011 and focused on his conditions of detention. Though Amnesty correctly denounced those conditions as cruel, it did not call for his release.

The argument that Amnesty should wait until Manning’s trial before deciding its position has not been invoked in some high-profile cases outside America. After the group Pussy Riot staged a protest in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral last year, Amnesty urged the Russian authorities to free three women arrested in connection with the incident ahead of their trial. Amnesty stated clearly that the members of Pussy Riot were targeted because of their “political opinions.”

Different rules

Why is Amnesty applying different rules to the US than to Russia?

My own interest in human rights was sparked by the protests over US foreign policy that occurred when Ronald Reagan visited Ireland in 1984 (I was 13 years old at the time). I first heard about Amnesty a year or two later and have supported the organization ever since.

So it felt like a betrayal when I heard that Amnesty’s American office was headed for most of last year by Suzanne Nossel; before taking up that job she had been a deputy assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton. Under Nossel’s leadership, Amnesty whitewashed the invasion of Afghanistan by hosting a conference praising NATO’s “progress” in that country. The guest of “honor” at that event was Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state who declared that killing as many as 500,000 children in Iraq by depriving them of essential medicines was a price worth paying.

Bad example

If Amnesty is becoming more obsequious to the powerful, then it may be following a bad example set by its kindred organization Human Rights Watch.

Scott Long, a former member of staff in Human Rights Watch, revealed recently how the group has an absurd policy of “objectivity” on the Middle East. Each time it publishes a report rebuking Israeli aggression, it feels compelled to follow up with a report hostile to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.

The policy misses a salient point: Israel is the largest recipient of aid from the US; it has been given a free pass by the “international community” to subjugate an entire people. A human rights organization should, therefore, be devoting more of its time and resources to exposing Israel’s crimes than to striking some kind of spurious balance.

“I deserve it”

In 2010, I interviewed Kenneth Roth, the Human Rights Watch director. When preparing questions to ask him, I read that he was paid $345,000 per year — almost as much as Barack Obama’s salary. I put it to him that it seemed an exorbitant sum for the head of a non-profit organization. Roth agreed that it was “a lot of money” but added: “I think I could make a case that I deserve it.”

Roth had just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Perhaps the only reason why a human rights defender should go that confab for a global elite would be to cause trouble. But I didn’t get the impression that the business and political leaders in the Alpine resort had been discomfited by Roth’s presence.

Human Rights Watch has been even more reticent than Amnesty on Bradley Manning’s treatment.

The only statement relating to Manning that I could find on the Human Rights Watch website was issued in March 2011. It did no more than call on the US to “publicly explain” why it was subjecting Manning to “possibly punitive and degrading treatment.”

Bradley Manning has performed a tremendous service to humanity. It is not far-fetched to argue that the 2011 uprisings in Arab countries would not have happened without him.

The demonstrations which ended Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule in Tunisia took place after Manning had shattered some myths about that country’s relationship with the US. A diplomatic cable that Manning gave to WikiLeaks stated bluntly that America did not consider Ben Ali an “ally,” despite how it had shored up his regime.

Freedom of information was recognized as a basic human right at the inaugural session of the UN’s general assembly. Bradley Manning has taken an enormous risk to uphold that right. It is a shame that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are not standing up for him.




Thank you for pointing out the blatant hypocrisy of both these organizations in regards to B.Manning. While AI and HRW have contributed much to raising awareness of human right abuse over the years, they are slowly being subverted and corrupted by their funding. As the old adage goes, follow the money.


Amnesty International has long been a tool and soft weapon of NATO and the US State Department. They told to 'stand down' from their bosses.....


I was under the impression that the head of Amnesty International was taken over by a State Department official. That could be why.


a pleasure to read..and sends an important message to all those who understand the concept of "double-standards".


Well. It seems just right to check the ways money flows in these organisations and things should become ever more clear.


Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Bradley Manning issue, Amnesty US has been raising eyebrows for some time amongst lifelong Amnesty members- and is worryingly problematic. The think Amnesty International needs to get back to reacting to core Human Rights violations and to purge some of its higher echelons


I understand that Amnesty International have to choose their battles. There is nothing that they could do that enough of us couldn´t also do if we got together. Let´s not blame one organization who work very hard on specific cases for the widespread apathy with regards to this one very important person.

I wish they would stand behind him too, I wish everyone would.


Those who think the gun-site video Assange edited and titled “Collateral Murder” “shows an attack on unarmed civilians in Iraq,” should consider the following facts.

According to a colleague in the documentary entitled "Permission to Engage," Reuters employee, Namir Noor-Eldeen, went to photograph an American Humvee being attacked by insurgents. He pursued that vehicle when it left one BP (Blocking Position) and photographed it while parked at a second BP three blocks further north.

Not only had the Humvee been attacked earlier from behind the dirt pile shown in Namir’s photographs, but had also been attacked from two locations in the nearby courtyard as it traveled to a new BP. Where are the insurgents who attacked the Humvee from these three locations?

(1) [15:36] When asked who called in Crazyhorse 1/8 for air support a soldier in the Humvee (Hotel 2/6) said “Uh, I believe that was me.” “They uh had AK-47s and were to our east, so, where we were taking small arms fire,” he added. This is the same location where the Reuters photographer took pictures of the Humvee.

(2) [12:04] After engaging 10 men and the van Crazyhorse 1/8 asked Hotel 2/6, “Where else were you taking fire from?” Hotel 2/6 responded, “Currently we’re not being engaged, ah, but just south of that location.” Five men are at this location when the Reuters employee’s arrive in the open courtyard [01:31].

(3) [11:33] When asked if he was aware of American troops approaching from his left Hotel 2/6 says yes. He gives them this warning: “Be advised, there were some guys popping out with AKs behind that dirt pile break. We also took some RPGs off, uh, earlier, so just uh make sure your men keep your eyes open,” he added.

There are several gun-site videos posted on the internet where insurgents hide or place their weapons on the ground nearby when they hear Apaches coming and walk around pretending to be innocent civilians. Example:


Yes, go into a country and wage war, wreak destruction, cause chaos, destroy the countries infrstructure, understand nothing, and then explain insurgency is the reason for more violence.
Nothing in your post explains these cold-blooded murders. And that is what they are. And there were plenty more of them.


It was completely inappropriate to install Suzanne Nossel as head of Amnesty's American office and completely ridiculous that Kenneth Roth should consider his salary well-earned. That is not what we support Amnesty and Human Rights Watch for.
It might be wise for Amenesty and Human Rights Watch members to do some investigation on such trends.


"Freedom of information was recognized as a basic human right at the inaugural session of the UN’s general assembly. "

What type of information does that refer to? I don't think a person who hacks into his organization's systems and reveals national secrets is simply a 'prisoner of conscience.' I think that you do a bad job of describing what he is charged with.


Really? "Classified" is a joke. The government has 98% of everything classified. They feel free to leak at will. You don't like Manning because he failed to be completely "brainwashed"? The man maintained a conscience. That's his crime? I for one take responsibility for the awful, awful, awful things our government does, and I cannot sleep at night. Did you fail to see where Manning went thru the proper channels and was rebuffed? Would you have had his courage?


Bradley Manning was primarily motivated by opposition to the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. An opposition many other American had, expressed and weren't punished for. He is responsible for the largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public. He did not follow typical journalist norms in vetting the material for national interest that groups like the NYTimes, LATimes, AP... typically follow.

You can agree with him or disagree with him. You can argue that he is being overcharged with things like "aiding the enemy". He himself pled guilty on 10 of the 22 charges. You can believe that the sentence he is like to get will be much too harsh. But he is not a prisoner of conscience. He is a political activist who deliberately subverted military policy because he disagreed with US law.


The hypocrisy is mind numbing, don't you think? So Roth needs $345,000 pa to follow his ethical beliefs and act on his conscience does he?
I gave up contributing monthly to the NSPCC because there were so many staffers who were make a very "comfortable" living at the expense of disadvantaged kids, some of whom were being treated very cruelly. I'm retired and offered to work for them for nothing but they didn't want that!
I rather thought the top AI or HRW person might be a 30-40 hippy type boy or girl with a cloth bag over their shoulders, long hair, sandals perhaps and a burning desire to try and stave off the excesses of the 'Haves' of this Planet.
How disappointing; as has been said, 'Follow the money!' Money (power) corrupts and lots of it corrupts a lot.


HRW and AI are mainstream groups looking to move decision makers towards prioritizing human rights. They work with on the ground human rights groups that are more like what you describe but they themselves are not that and have never claimed to be.


i just called the UN office for Amnesty International... i was given excuses,another number and after he washed his hands he said he could do nothing because it wasn't a UN matter that deals with this problem from his office....


When Suzanne Nossel left Amnesty in January, it was to become director of PEN American Center (not the same, apparently, as PEN Center USA), a human rights org for writers. This prompted Chris Hedges to resign on principle:

Betrayal by human rights organizations of their mandate is, unfortunately, widespread. From aiding the subversion of democracy in Haiti nine years ago to some Canadian NGOs collaborating with Canadian-based mining companies that commit environmental and human rights crimes, there are too many examples.

No wonder NGOs are no longer trusted, though of course some have tarred the reputations of all. And some, particularly U.S.-based Christian fundamentalist NGOs, were never progressive, while some still are. You have to look carefully at what they do.


AI also refuses to involve itself in repression in the UK on the basis that there is a credible judiciary. Unfortunately the repression includes the detention of targeted individuals abroad when traveling on the behest of the security services. Furthermore, those being targeted within the UK are subjected to bullying, stalking and surveillance.

MI5 are very good avoiding checks and balances in order to repress entire sections of the community when they are black and brown.


Face it folks, both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have gone corporate! Stick a fork in both of them, their done!


God bless Bradley Manning and his courage in making the public aware of how
un-American the US can be. I hope I will have as much courage in 2014 at tax-time when I plan to refuse to pay a percentage of my Federal taxes because of my country's misuse of such taxes to pursue unconstitutional policies , including the punishing of the hero in Manning's case and rewarding itself.
I now contribute to the Jimmy Carter Center for human rights, trusting its purposes and actions much more than those of Al and HRW.


I'm really tired of the dishonest argument that Manning released the THOUSANDS of documents because of his outrage over the "Collateral Murder" incident. If he had released just THAT, he would undoubtedly be a prisoner of conscience. He hurt his own case. Sorry.


Indeed, had Bradley Manning released one piece of evidence showing one example of wrong-doing by the US government, he'd be a prisoner of conscience, but since he released thousands of pieces of evidence showing hundreds of instances of wrong-doing by the US, well, it's obvious he's just a trouble-maker.


How disheartening. I had no idea. But better to get the real picture. Money and its corrupting influence and uses to subvert.

Yes it seems that no one ought to be able to publish as a journalist unless they take a class in what it truly means to be "objective" in reporting; and how to do research that looks behind the veil. Thank you for your efforts to alert us.


I like the notion that Amnesty International fully researches their position on the wrongly imprisoned. However, as a monthly donor to Amnesty I am very disappointed that it is taking them so long on the Bradley Manning file. Look for a change.