Support for US 'WikiLeaks' soldier raised in west Wales

Bradley Manning
Image caption Pte Bradley Manning is accused of of leaking classified information

Supporters in Wales of a US soldier accused of leaking confidential Army documents have spoken of their shock at his detention.

Private Bradley Manning, 23, who is from Oklahoma but went to school in Pembrokeshire, has been in military custody since May.

He is accused of giving classified material to website WikiLeaks, and a campaign to free him is continuing.

Friends call him heroic, but critics say publication has endangered lives.

Mainly brought up in Oklahoma, Pte Manning spent four of his teenage living with his mother in west Wales, attending Tasker Milward school in Haverfordwest.

James Kirkpatrick, 22, a close friend of his during that time, told BBC Wales: "He is an absolute hero, anybody who is going to bring up such injustices, you've got to consider them a hero.

'Absolute hero'

"I found out the first week he was being held and was shocked, I couldn't believe it.

"I felt proud of him really, whistleblowing against such controversies, it's quite a heroic thing, I was shocked but really impressed by him as well."

Mr Kirkpatrick, who now lives in Cardiff, said he never thought "in a million years" that Pte Manning would join the US Army.

"He was a funny little character, really on the ball, a really bright kid. [He] loved computers, absolutely loved them," he said.

"[He] was really sort of politically involved as well. He was always interesting to talk to."

He added: "Obviously the Army there has got very good technology and good training for computers so I can see why he may have joined it but you never would have expected him to do so."

He added: "The last time I spoke to him was about seven months ago, a couple of months before this incident.

"When I found out about Bradley being incarcerated there I left him a comment on Facebook.

Image caption The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks was founded by Julian Assange

"It will be interesting to see what happens, hopefully it will go for the better and he will get a safe return to freedom."

Protest rallies

Opinion about Pte Manning's alleged involvement in the leak is polarised. Both the US military and critics say making the secret documents public has put the lives of Afghans collaborating with coalition forces in danger, while supporters view him as a hero who has revealed the truth about combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Campaigners calling for Pte Manning's release are staging a four-day series of protest rallies.

Demonstrations are planned in at least 18 cities around the world and high-profile figures such as the American documentary maker Michael Moore and the Vietnam war whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg have joined the international campaign.

Mike Gogulski, the founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, which is raising money for his legal defence, said so far the fund had generated more than $50,000 (about £32,000) from 850 separate donors.

He described his reaction on viewing the footage: "I said to myself 'thank goodness' for WikiLeaks and the person who was able to get that (video) out.

"Seeing several months later the military had arrested somebody was quite dismaying and I realised somebody would have to start organising in his defence."

Mr Gogulski said if Pte Manning did release the material, diverting the world's attention to the issue meant he was "definitely a hero".

He added: "If he didn't release this material then the military ought to let him go."

Confusion surrounds what material has actually been leaked, if it was leaked by Pte Manning and why, if so, he would have chosen to do it.

He was identified as an alleged WikiLeaks source after former hacker Adrian Lamo, in whom he had allegedly confided, contacted the authorities.

Image caption Opponents of WikiLeaks' actions claim lives are put in danger in combat zones

Classified information

During a series of conversations conducted online, Mr Lamo claims that Pte Manning revealed he had passed 260,000 US diplomatic cables and two confidential military videos, one showing a US helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq to WikiLeaks.

Pte Manning faces two charges related to the illegal transfer and transmission of classified information from a US military network.

But Dr David Berry, lecturer in political and cultural studies at Swansea University, who has been researching WikiLeaks, said the situation was "odd".

"We don't really know what they received from him," he said.

"WikiLeaks itself has had a rather odd relationship with Bradley Manning, sometimes confirming that he was involved, denying he was involved, sometimes talking about setting up a legal campaign then denying they were going to, and consequently the whole waters around Bradley Manning have been rather muddied."

One of the videos Pte Manning allegedly leaked contained footage from a 2007 attack by US forces in Baghdad in which 12 people died, including two Reuters employees.

The US state department has told the BBC it believes Pte Manning obtained secret diplomatic data despite being at a field base in Iraq.

WikiLeaks has consistently denied possessing the thousands of diplomatic cables Mr Lamo alleges were passed to them.

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