Both of the men at the center of the WikiLeaks case are now in some form of solitary confinement, though the differences in their conditions of confinement are significant.
As the Guardian reported yesterday, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange has been transferred to the segregation unit at Wandsworth Prison, the Victorian rock in southwest London. Assange was remanded to Wandsworth on Tuesday after he was refused bail while awaiting a hearing on his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges.
According to the Guardian, “Assange is thought to have asked to be housed away from other prisoners, who had shown a high degree of interest in him after he arrived…He has his own cell and because of the consular and legal visits did not exercise, but will normally get one hour a day. Because he is in the segregation unit, his association with other prisoners will be limited.” Assange’s lawyer described the prisoner as “‘quite chipper – he seemed to be bearing up,'” but said he had complained about the daytime television at the prison, and added that “‘he doesn’t have access to a computer, even without an internet connection, or to writing material. He’s got some files but doesn’t have any paper to write on and put them in.'” However, the Guardian reports, “As part of a scheme called ‘access to justice’, prison authorities are arranging for Assange to be given a computer so he can work on his case. The computer will have limited internet access.”
Assange’s treatment compares quite favorably to that of Bradley Manning, the Army private who is accused of actually leaking the documents being made public by WikiLeaks. He is getting considerably less attention than Assange. But as Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, Manning is the real protagonist of the WikiLeaks story–hero or villain, depending on your point of view–and the figure comparable to Ellsberg himself. On WNYC radio today, Ellsberg said:
Manning I see as the first person in 40 years who has been willing, as he said, to go to prison for life or be executed in order to get this information to the American people, and, as he said, to cause worldwide discussion, debate and reform. That’s where I was 40 years ago, and I haven’t heard anyone say anything like that in the intervening period.
Bradley Manning has been held in solitary confinement for the past seven months, first in Kuwait and then in a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. He has been charged with leaking footage of two Reuters staffers being killed by U.S. Apache helicopters in Iraq in 2007, and is a “person of interest” in the release of hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents. He is expected to face a court-martial sometime in the spring of 2011.
Manning is apparently being held in conditions of extreme isolation, cut off from the outside world and denied visits from some members of his own family. As we wrote earlier this year, “Bradley Manning can look forward to a long period in solitary confinement before he is convicted of any crime…Complete isolation will be key to silencing this man who knew too much, and who shared what he knew with the American public.”