The US government, according to NBC correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, now admits that it cannot tie Pfc. Bradley Manning to Wikileaks leader Julian Assange.
The military also admitted that Manning was put on suicide watch improperly twice last week by the base commander at Quantico, essentially as a form of punishment and with no consultation with psychiatrists. During the watch they took his glasses from him so he could not read.
As for Assange,
‘ The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure. ‘
The admission appears to close off the most plausible legal strategy for the US to prosecute Assange. Since there is no Official Secrets Act in the United States, it is not clear that it is illegal to possess or to pass on classified documents. Manning himself would have broken a contractual obligation as a US government employee if he leaked classified documents, but civilians who received such documents are difficult to prosecute.
Assange, in London, is fighting extradition charges initiated by Sweden on grounds of minor sexual misconduct (not rape as is usually alleged in the US press). His lawyers have expressed fears that if the UK acceded to the Swedish request, its conservative government would promptly hand him over to the US, which would attempt to execute him for espionage.
The USG admission today undermines that legal strategy, since it is an announcement that Washington has no grounds to prosecute for conspiracy to commit espionage.
One can only hope that the end of the US efforts to link Manning to Assange will lead to an end of the abusive terms of Manning’s pretrial detention at Quantico’s brig.