By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. torture investigator said Tuesday that the United States had violated U.N. rules by refusing to let him speak privately to Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking secret documents to WikiLeaks.
Juan Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said that unmonitored one-on-one meetings with detainees in custody worldwide were the only way he could conduct credible enquiries into allegations of mistreatment.
The U.S. government had told him after months of negotiations that he could visit Manning, now held at Fort Leavenworth military base in Kansas, but that their conversation would be monitored, Mendez said in a statement.
"I am assured by the United States government that Mr. Manning's prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico," he said, referring to a Marine military brig in Virginia where Manning was held from May 2010 to April 2011.
"However, in addition to obtaining first-hand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid," he said.
Manning, through his lawyers, rejected the terms offered by the U.S. government, Mendez said.
A spokeswoman at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Geneva declined comment.
The former military intelligence analyst in Iraq is accused of leaking a confidential U.S. State Department archive that appeared on the WikiLeaks website. He is in pre-trial detention pending a court martial.
His lawyers complained that he had been mistreated at Quantico, where the Pentagon said he had been kept alone in his cell for 23 hours per day. It said he had at times been made to sleep naked and woken repeatedly during the night to ensure his safety.
Monitoring a conversation between a detainee and U.N. investigator violates long-standing rules that the world body applies for prison visits and interviews, according to Mendez, a lawyer from Argentina who was tortured as a political prisoner.
"The question of my unfettered access to a detainee goes beyond my request to meet with Mr. Manning -- it touches on whether I will be able to conduct private and unmonitored interviews with detainees if I were to conduct a country visit to the United States," he said.
Mendez, a law professor at American University in Washington D.C. who took up the independent U.N. post last November, said he had asked U.S. officials repeatedly for permission to visit security detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but had yet to receive a reply.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)