NBC: U.S. can't link accused Army private to Assange

Image: Army Specialist Bradley Manning
Army Specialist Bradley Manning is suspected of leaking thousands of Iraq War documents to Wikileaks. BRADLEYMANNING.ORG/HANDOUT / EPA

U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

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.

Assange, an Australian national, is under house arrest at a British mansion near London, facing a Swedish warrant seeking his extradition for questioning on charges of rape. Assange has denied the allegations.

WikiLeaks' release of secret diplomatic cables last year caused a diplomatic stir and laid bare some of the most sensitive U.S. dealings with governments around the world. It also prompted an American effort to stifle WikiLeaks by pressuring financial institutions to cut off the flow of money to the organization.

U.S. Attorney General Eric holder has said his department is also considering whether it can prosecute the release of information under the Espionage Act.

Assange told msnbc TV last month that WikiLeaks was unsure Army PFC Bradley Manning is the source for the classified documents appearing on his site.

"That's not how our technology works, that's not how our organization works," Assange said. "I never heard of the name of Bradley Manning before it appeared in the media."

He called allegations that WikiLeaks had conspired with Manning "absolute nonsense."

Officials: No torture of Manning
On Monday, U.S. military officials also strongly denied allegations that Manning, being held in connection with the WikiLeaks' release of classified documents, has been "tortured" and held in "solitary confinement" without due process.

The officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on "suicide watch" last week.

Military officials said Brig Commander James Averhart did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.

The official said that after Manning had allegedly failed to follow orders from his Marine guards. Averhart declared Manning a "suicide risk." Manning was then placed on suicide watch, which meant he was confined to his cell, stripped of most of his clothing and deprived of his reading glasses — anything that Manning could use to harm himself. At the urging of U.S. Army lawyers, Averhart lifted the suicide watch.

U.S. Marine and Army officials say Manning is being treated like any other maximum security prisoner at Quantico, Va. He is confined to his single-person cell 23-hours per day, permitted one hour to exercise, permitted reading material and given one hour per day to watch television.

Manning spends much of his day reading while sitting cross-legged on the bunk in his cell. His hour of television is spent watching the news, military officials told NBC News.

Anti-war groups, a psychologist group as well as filmmaker Michael Moore and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg have called for Bradley to be released from detention.