Bradley Manning: my challenge to Andy Slaughter

I have blogged previously about my letter to Andy Slaughter MP to ask him to sign Ann Clwyd’s Early Day Motion on the treatement of Bradley Manning, and on Andy’s less-than-satisfactory reply.

I wondered in my second post whether Andy was fobbing me off by telling me that shadow ministers cannot sign EDMs. Recently Naomi Colvin at UK Friends of Bradley Manning has posted a clarification of the rules on (shadow) ministers signing EDMs, and @ITFriendsofBM has drawn my attention to Andy’s parliamentary record of EDMs, which rather puts the lie to the claim that he cannot get involved.

In the light of this information, I have written again to Andy:

Dear Mr Slaughter,

Since our original correspondence, it has been brought to my attention that in the current parliamentary session, you have signed 67 EDMs, seconded 7 and even proposed 4 (http://www.edms.org.uk/mps/11559/). This sits rather at odds with your assertion that “as a shadow minister I am unable to sign EDMs.”

I note (House of Commons Information Office Factsheet P3, ‘Early Day Motions’ http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/guides/factsheets/procedure/p03/) that ‘under the Ministerial Code Parliamentary Private Secretaries “must not associate themselves with particular groups advocating special policies”’; however, the issue at stake is not a ‘special policy’ but a fundamental humanitarian principle, which is clearly laid out in international law.

Of course, I am no expert in parliamentary protocol, so it is very useful to have your own record to hand. It is worth mentioning a few of the EDMs you have signed in the current session:

  • EDM 112 on Human Rights in Burma, which ‘calls on the Government to support a United Nations-led effort to pressure the dictatorship to enter into … dialogue’
  • EDM 127 on Israel and Gaza Flotilla, which ‘notes that UK … nationals have been held by Israel … and calls on the international community to require Israel to end its blockade’
  • EDM 213 on MK Zoabi and the Gaza Flotilla, which ‘views with concern the treatment that MK Zoabi has received from her fellow parliamentarians … and calls on the Government vigorously to support the actions of MK Zoabi’
  • EDM 271 on Lord Trimble and the Israeli Inquiry into the Raid on the Gaza Flotilla, which you sponsored, and which ‘notes that Lord Trimble has been appointed as a foreign observer of the Israeli internal inquiry into that country’s raid on the Gaza … and further notes that … he is one of the founding members of a newly-formed Friends of Israel’
  • EDM 973 on Western Sahara, which ‘expresses its horror at the violent dismantling by Moroccan forces of refugee camps in the Western Sahara … and calls on the Government to signal that it is not prepared for the stalemate to continue in defiance of UN resolutions and international law’
  • EDM 1385 on Brenda Namigadde, which you proposed, and which ‘is concerned by the imminent proposed deportation of Brenda Namigadde, who has claimed asylum because she fears persecution based on her sexuality … and calls on the Government to exercise its powers to allow [her] to remain in the United Kingdom.’

These EDMs show striking parallels with Ann Clwyd’s EDM 1624 on Bradley Manning. In particular, the focus on UK nationals abroad (EDM 127), contraventions of international law (EDM 973), and demands that the government take measures to intervene in humanitarian issues (passim). It is also worth reiterating that not only are you a signatory to these EDMs, but you proposed one, and seconded another, which strongly suggests that the principle of (shadow) ministerial non-involvement is not relevant.

I am rather puzzled by this. I can see from your record that you take a keen interest in Human Rights and international law, and you express shock in your email at Bradley Manning’s treatment, yet you tell me that you are unable to sign Ann Clwyd’s EDM, when your parliamentary record suggests otherwise.

Please could you explain to me why you have proposed, seconded and signed 78 other EDMs during this session, but are unable to sign this one.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Butt

I am genuinely puzzled by this: Andy clearly takes an interest in issues of Human Rights and international law, so why is he refusing to sign Ann’s EDM. I will post an update if I hear back from him!

Bradley Manning: Andy Slaughter replies

Yesterday I wrote to my MP, Andy Slaughter, to ask him to sign Ann Clwyd’s early day motion 1624 on the treatment of Bradley Manning. Today I received this response:

Dear Matthew Butt,

Thank you for contacting me regarding this issue. This situation has only recently been brought to my attention, and I am shocked to hear about what has been taking place.

As a shadow minister I am unable to sign EDMs, however I will write to the Foreign Secretary to raise your concerns, and to ask what, if any steps, the UK Government is taking to prevent any further torture from taking place.

In the meantime, if you would like to raise any further issue with me, please don’t hesitate to do so.

Yours sincerely

Andy Slaughter

Labour MP for Hammersmith

I am thrilled to have received such a quick response, although sorry that he will not be adding his signature to Ann Clwyd’s EDM. I have responded to him as follows:

Dear Mr Slaughter,

Thank you for your very speedy response to my email, and for expressing your shock at Bradley’s treatment.

I am sorry to hear that parliamentary protocol prevents you from signing Ann Clwyd’s EDM, and very much appreciate your undertaking to write to the Foreign Secretary about this issue; I would be very interested to read a copy of your letter, and any response you might receive, as it would be greatly reassuring to all of us concerned with this case to know that it is being given proper consideration.

Could I also urge you to encourage your parliamentary colleagues to sign the EDM, and to give this shameful situation the exposure it needs.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Butt

It is worth noting that Parliament’s own website has this to say about EDMs:

The following people in Parliament normally will not sign EDMs:

  • Ministers and government whips
  • Parliamentary Private Secretaries
  • The Speaker and his deputies

In other words, there is no mention of shadow ministers not signing, and indeed it appears that the practice of ministers not signing EDMs is custom rather than rule; perhaps someone with better knowledge of parliamentary procedure can enlighten me whether Andy is abiding by protocol or fobbing me off.

I will of course report back if I hear any more.

Letter to Andy Slaughter MP re Early Day Motion 1624: Treatment of Bradley Manning

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I have been taking a particular interest in the case of Bradley Manning, the young Welsh-American soldier accused of whistleblowing and releasing classified military information, including the Wikileaks files. This afternoon Peer and I attended a demonstration outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square to protest against his treatment, and this evening I have written to my local MP, Andy Slaughter, to ask him to sign early day motion 1624, tabled by Bradley’s old MP, Ann Clwyd, which calls on the government to raise Bradley’s case with the US administration.

Here is the text of my letter:

Dear Mr Slaughter,

I am writing as a constituent to ask you to sign early day motion 1624, tabled by Ann Clwyd, on the treatment of Bradley Manning. Bradley is being held in conditions which constitute torture and, as a UK citizen by virtue of his mother’s nationality, is entitled to British consular support. Furthermore, as Shadow Justice Minister, his case should be of particular interest to you, as it is in breach of both international law and the fundamental principles of justice.

Private First Class Bradley Manning is being held in military custody at Quantico Marine Base in the US on suspicion of whistle-blowing and releasing classified military documents. He is being kept under ‘prevention of injury’ conditions, which place him in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day in his cell, while for the other hour he is transferred to another room where he can pace around in shackles for his daily ‘exercise’. During his confinement, he is interrupted by gaolers every five minutes, and required to respond verbally to confirm that he is awake; at night he has access to minimal bedding, and has recently been required to sleep naked, and to present himself naked in the morning. At times Bradley has been placed under suicide watch, although the brig psychiatrist himself has assessed him as being at low risk of suicide; the only explanation for this situation is that this treatment is punitive. Bradley needs glasses to read, and is frequently denied access to them, as well as to radio and television, meaning that he has very limited access to external stimuli during his incarceration.  This treatment has been widely criticised, amongst others by P J Crowley, the former adviser to Hillary Clinton, who described his treatment as ‘ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid’; indeed, the very conditions that are supposed to ‘prevent injury’ to Bradley, are likely to weaken his mental state and put him at further risk.

It is clear that the treatment of Bradley Manning constitutes torture or cruel and degrading treatment, contrary to the UN Convention against Torture, and pressure must be put on the US government to ensure that this treatment ceases, and that Bradley is held in humane conditions.

Secondly, this treatment constitutes pre-trial punishment, as Bradley has not yet stood trial for any of his alleged actions, nor has a date been set for him to stand trial. As Shadow Justice Minister you will be aware of the importance of due judicial process, and should be deeply concerned at this breach of such process.

Thirdly, Bradley Manning holds dual citizenship and the UK has a responsibility to ensure he has appropriate consular support. His mother is Welsh, and he lived and went to school in Haverfordwest during his teenage years. Whilst Bradley returned to the United States at the age of 17, he still has family in Wales, and it is the local MP, your colleague Ann Clwyd, who has tabled this early day motion.

I urge you to sign this early day motion, to demonstrate that the UK values the rights of its citizens and stands up for human rights around the world. Whatever your personal position on the charges brought against Bradley, I am sure you will agree that his torture and pre-trial punishment are unacceptable, and that we in the UK have a particular responsibility to stand up for his interests. Please support our calls for justice by signing this early day motion at the first opportunity, and by urging your colleagues in the house to do likewise.

Yours,

Matthew Butt

Please write to your MP as well. It is a small matter for them to sign this motion, but we in the UK are in a unique position to help improve the conditions of this heroic young man.