UN torture investigator can meet WikiLeaks suspect: Pentagon

"The Department of Defence has informed the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (Juan E Méndez) that he is free to visit Manning and meet with him, provided Manning, through his attorney, consents to the visit and the visitor. We cannot, under Quantico brig practice, guarantee the UN Special Rapporteur an unmonitored visit," the Defence Department spokesman Col Dave Lapan said.

Méndez on Friday had said despite his repeated requests to visit Manning, the US has not granted him unmonitored access to the detainee.

"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," Mendez had said.

A UN statement said the 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, the UN statement asserted.

"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," Méndez said.

"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,... 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," he said.

On Friday, the Special Rapporteur held a conversation with high authorities in the Departments of Defence 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.

Defending the decision of the Pentagon, spokesman Lapan said at Quantico, such a guarantee is only reserved for attorney-client communications.

As in the federal prison system, and for security reasons, Department of Defence does not guarantee unmonitored communications with detainees except for privileged communications or in other special circumstances not present here.

"Again, the UN Special Rapporteur, like any other visitor, is free to request a visit with Manning through Manning's attorney, and Manning is free to agree to it," he said.
Lapan said there is considerable misinformation about Manning in the public discourse.

"He is not, as is widely reported, in solitary confinement. There is no such thing at Quantico. PFC Manning is in maximum security, which does not affect the type of cell he is in."

"Manning occupies the same type of single-occupancy cell that a medium security confinee at Quantico would occupy, in the same general area of the brig that a medium security confinee may occupy," Lapan said.

"Except for a brief period about a month ago, and for reasons of Manning's own physical safety, Manning does not sleep naked. Nor is Manning awakened every five minutes by brig personnel. These facts are simply not true.

"Manning is allowed to receive visitors, receive and send mail, watch TV, exercise outside his cell, and visit with doctors and mental health providers," he argued.

"Finally, the circumstances of PFC Manning's pretrial confinement are regularly reviewed, and comply in all respects with US law and Department of Defense regulations," Lapan said.

In his statement, the UN official argued his 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," Méndez 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," he added.

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