From David C. MacMichael. January 19, 2011

Dear Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos:

As a former regular Marine Corps captain, a Korean War combat veteran, now retired on Veterans Administration disability due to wounds suffered during that conflict, I write you to protest and express concern about the confinement in the Quantico Marine Corps Base brig of US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Manning, if the information I have is correct, is charged with having violated provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by providing to unauthorized persons, among them specifically one Julian Assange and his organization Wikileaks, classified information relating to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department communications. This seems straightforward enough and sufficient to have Manning court-martialed and if found guilty sentenced in accordance with the UCMJ.

What concerns me here, and I hasten to admit that I respect Manning’s motives, is the manner in which the legal action against him is being conducted. I wonder, in the first place, why an Army enlisted man is being held in a Marine Corps installation. Second, I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system. Third, I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement—solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc.—are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, US or international.

Indeed, I have to wonder why the Marine Corps has put itself, or allowed itself to be put, in this invidious and ambiguous situation. I can appreciate that the decision to place Manning in a Marine Corps facility may not have been one over which you had control. However, the conditions of his confinement in the Quantico brig are very clearly under your purview, and, if I may say so, these bring little credit either to you or your subordinates at the Marine Corps Base who impose these conditions.

It would be inappropriate, I think, to use this letter, in which I urge you to use your authority to make the conditions of Pfc. Manning’s confinement less extreme, to review my Marine Corps career except to note that my last duty prior to resigning my captain’s commission in 1959 was commanding the headquarters company at Quantico. More relevantly, during the 1980s, following a stint as a senior estimates officer in the CIA, I played a very public role as a “whistleblower “ in the Iran-contra affair. At that time, I wondered why Lt.Col. Oliver North, who very clearly violated the UCMJ—and, in my opinion, disgraced our service—was not court-martialed.

When I asked the Navy’s Judge-Advocate General’s office why neither North nor Admiral Poindexter were charged under the UCMJ, the JAG informed me that when officers were assigned to duties in the White House, NSC, or similar offices they were somehow not legally in the armed forces. To my question why, if that were the case, they continued to draw their military pay and benefits, increase their seniority, be promoted while so serving, and, spectacularly in North’s case, appear in uniform while testifying regarding violations of US law before Congress, I could get no answer beyond, “That’s our policy.”

This is not to equate North’s case with Manning. It is only to suggest that equal treatment under the law is one of those American principles that the Marine Corps exists to protect. This is something you might consider.

David C. MacMichael