© EPAArmy Pfc. Bradley Manning, in an undated file photo.
The Army private accused of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks was cleared Thursday to live alongside other inmates at a military prison, a dramatic change from his previous quarters in a brig where he spent 23 hours a day alone in his cell.
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning passed the lengthy physical and psychiatric evaluation given to new inmates at the Fort Leavenworth prison and received final clearance just before a mid-day media tour of the facility, its commander Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton said.
Manning was transferred there last week from the Marine Corps brig in Virginia, where he had been held for the eight months since his arrest.
At Quantico, Manning had to surrender his clothes at night in favour of a military-issued, suicide-prevention smock.
Manning's attorney and supporters said that was unnecessary and argued his living conditions, including his isolation from other inmates, were inhumane.
Jeff Paterson, a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, said Thursday he was "heartened" by the news that Manning's conditions were improving.
"In my opinion, there was never an issue of Bradley and suicide. It was Quantico using it as justification for holding him under extreme conditions," Paterson said. "All of (the treatment) is based on the suicide issue, but it's not backed up by a single psychiatrist. It's definitely a very good sign."
Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, confidential State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver.
Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman who travelled to answer questions on the tour, acknowledged the media coverage and international criticism played a role in allowing reporters to tour the prison to see firsthand the conditions under which Manning is being held. No cameras were allowed.
Manning's new 80-square-foot (7.4-square-meter) cell has a single, metal bunk, one window, a desk, sink and stool. He is allowed to exercise in the cell and interact with about 10 other pre-trial inmates in a common area, except for during the "lights out" period overnight. He is allowed to eat and exercise with others awaiting trial.
While he can receive unlimited mail, he is only allowed to keep 20 pieces at one time. Manning also can use the library and have visitors under the supervision of guards, and cameras and microphones throughout the prison monitor activities.
His transfer to Leavenworth came a bit more than a week after a U.N. torture investigator, Juan Mendez, complained that he was denied a request to make an unmonitored visit to Manning. Pentagon officials said he could meet with Manning, but it is customary to give only the detainee's lawyer confidential visits.
Mendez said a monitored conversation would be counter to the practice of his U.N. mandate.
Another Manning supporter, Kevin Zeese, said the "real test" would be if U.N. investigators are able to visit him at Fort Leavenworth.
Messages seeking comment left by The Associated Press for Manning's defence attorney David Coombs were not immediately returned Thursday.
Fort Leavenworth officials last allowed media to see the military prison last October before it opened for inmates. The facility is located on the northernmost edge of the post, near the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks where 450 inmates are serving sentences ranging from five years to life, and six who have been sentenced to death.
"We don't anticipate doing this again. It is highly unusual that we allow media into a correctional facility run by the Department of Defence," Collins said. "Then again, we think it's important that the public understand the conditions of confinement here."
Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches law at Yale and heads the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, said he thinks the media tour is a positive step.
"Frankly, the military confinement and correction system has been very little studied," Fidell said. "I've long thought it's overdue for more scrutiny. Anything that sheds light will help allay concerns among the public and let people move onto more substantial matters."
The prison has about 150 inmates, which consolidated operations from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Knox, Kentucky.