GENEVA (11 April 2011) – United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, said Monday that despite his repeated requests to visit Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, the United States Government has not granted him unmonitored access to the detainee.The State Department had some hard questioning from an AP and a Reuters reporter over U.S. claims re "transparency" given the reluctance to grant the UN rep a private meeting with Manning. The tale is told by Josh Gerstein at Politico (H/T Emptywheel). "LEE" is Matthew Lee of AP; "TONER" is Acting State Department Spokesman Mark Toner:
“Since December 2010, I have been engaging the US Government on visiting Mr. Manning, at the invitation of his Counsel, to determine his current condition,” the human rights expert said. “Unfortunately, the US Government has not been receptive to a confidential meeting with Mr. Manning.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as part of the methods of work for his mandate, requires unimpeded access to all places of detention, where he can hold private, confidential and unsupervised interviews with detainees. The requirement of a private, confidential and unsupervised interview is a standard practice of the Rapporteur’s mandate and ensures the credibility of any interviews that an independent expert holds with detainees or persons who allege that they have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
“I have since last year on several occasions raised serious concern about the conditions of detention of Mr. Manning, who since his arrest in May 2010, has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia. I have also urged the authorities to ensure his physical and mental integrity,” said Mr. Méndez.
The Special Rapporteur further requested the consent of the US Government to facilitate a visit to Mr. Manning after Mr. Méndez was approached by Mr. Manning’s defense counsel in February of this year. While the US Government did not give Mr. Méndez a formal response it encouraged the Special Rapporteur to request permission directly from the Brig Commander at Quantico. A request for an ‘official visit’ was made in late March, and the relevant official promised that the request would be considered through the chain of command.
“Even though I have not received an official answer from the Brig Commander, Mr. Manning’s counsel has learned that the request for an official visit has been denied,” Mr. Méndez said. “Presumably, the alternative is a ‘private visit’, the difference between the two is that the latter takes place in the presence of a guard, while an official visit may be unmonitored.”
On Friday, April 8, the Special Rapporteur held a conversation with high authorities in the Departments of Defense and State. Those officials confirmed that Manning could ask to see the Special Rapporteur if he so wished and in that case the US Government would have no objection to a ‘private visit,’ meaning a visit that is monitored by prison officials.
“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US Government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning. I understand that Pfc Manning does not wish to waive his right to an unmonitored conversation with me,” the human rights expert said. “My request for a private, confidential and unsupervised interview with Manning is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention center visited. In fact, such forms of interview have been used by the Special Rapporteur in, at least, 18 countries over the last 6 years.”
“I raised my concerns, last Friday, with high-ranking officials of the Department of State and Department of Defense of the US Government and have asked them to reconsider their decision not to grant me an ‘official visit’ with Mr. Manning,” he said. “The United States of America has a key role in setting examples on issues concerning my mandate as Special Rapporteur on torture, which makes it a vital partner for engagement.”
“I am letting Mr. Manning know, through his counsel, of this decision by the US Government. I am willing to visit him if he wants to talk to me, even under these conditions, albeit in the understanding that I will continue to insist on an interview without witnesses,” Mr. Méndez said.
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity.
Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm
Check the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm
LEE: Can – you said you’ve been forthright in your discussions of his treatment. It seems to me that the only person who was forthright in discussions of his treatment resigned several days after making those comments. What – can you explain what you mean by you’ve been forthright in terms of his treatment?Emptywheel comments, "It’s not quite Baghdad Bob … quite. But it would be pure comedy gold if it weren’t about our hypocrisy on human rights."
TONER: He is being held in legal detention. There’s a legal process underway, so I’m not going to discuss in any more detail than what I – beyond what I’ve just said because there’s a legal process underway.
LEE: So that’s what you mean by forthright?
TONER: I can’t discuss – I can’t discuss his treatment.
LEE: Being forthright is saying nothing because there’s a legal process underway; is that correct?
TONER: That’s not correct at all. And we’ve – we continue to talk to the special rapporteur about his case.
LEE: Well, okay. So if you’ve been – what do you talk to him about?
TONER: I’m not going to talk about --
LEE: He says, “I’d like to visit him and I need to do it privately,” and you say, “No,” and that’s --
TONER: I’m not going to talk about the substance of those conversations. I’d just say we feel we’ve been --
LEE: Well, then I don’t understand how you can say that you’re being forthright about it if you refuse to talk about it. And if you don’t talk about it, at least – forget about what the actual conditions of his treatment are, but if you’re not prepared to talk about your conversations with the special rapporteur, that’s being even less than not being forthright because you’re not telling us what you told him.
TONER: But you understand the legal constraints that I’m operating under because this is an ongoing legal process.
LEE: Right. But --
TONER: He is being held --
LEE: I understand that you’re put in a difficult position where you say that you’re willing, as Arshad noted when the – that you’re – you don’t understand why China is so upset because the U.S. is willing to open up its human rights situation to all kinds of scrutiny --
TONER: And, Matt --
LEE: And then the first example that anyone raises, you’re not.
Center for Constitutional Rights released a statement early today regarding Velasco's dismissal of "this politically charged case," noting that the U.S. made it clear in it's statement that “the Department of Justice has concluded that it is not appropriate to bring criminal cases with respect to any other executive branch officials, including those named in the complaint, who acted in reliance on [Office of Legal Counsel] memoranda during the course of their involvement with the policies and procedures for detention and interrogation.”
“This decision is a cowardly political act by a judge afraid to pursue justice under his country’s own laws. He is hiding behind the fig leaf of the U.S.’s scant seven-page response, but the submission made clear the U.S. has no intention of investigating these crimes or holding higher-level officials accountable for torture. As we saw from the WikiLeaks cables, the U.S. has been pressuring Spain to drop the case and interfering with the independence of judges. A second U.S. torture case remains open in Spain after a higher court ruled it should continue on February 25. Judge Velasco asked for opposing views but then issued his decision without even looking at our detailed submission refuting the U.S. claims. We will fight this decision and continue to demand accountability for torture.”