U.S. rights group urges Nobel Peace Prize for WikiLeaks soldier

OSLO Mon Aug 12, 2013 10:34am EDT

OSLO Aug 12 (Reuters) - A U.S. rights group has collected over 100,000 signatures urging the Norwegian Nobel committee to give this year's Peace Prize to Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier convicted of leaking classified U.S. government files touching on military policy.

Recognising Manning, the head of the RootsAction group said, would also help repair the Nobel panel's reputation after it chose President Barack Obama for the Peace Prize in 2009, only a few months into his first term of office.

"There's a cloud hanging over the Nobel Peace Committee," Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction said on Monday, as he prepared to hand his 5,000-page petition to the committee.

"In a sense, the Nobel Peace Prize at this point needs Bradley Manning more than Bradley Manning needs the Nobel Peace Prize ... There has now grown a question about the Nobel Committee's commitment to human rights and peace in an even handed, independent way."

Private First Class Manning was convicted earlier this month of charges that included espionage and theft for releasing more than 700,000 battlefield videos, diplomatic cables and other secret documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. He now faces up to 90 years in prison.

Solomon argued that the disclosures shortened the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and made it more difficult for the country to engage in conflict. A representative of the Nobel committee said the petition would not influence its decision.

"The Nobel Peace Prize is not a popularity contest and a large number of signatures will neither help nor hinder his (Manning's) candidacy," Asle Toje, the Norwegian Nobel Committee's Research Director said.

"It will be reviewed on its merit, based on the principles laid out in the will of Alfred Nobel. It's not unprecedented that we receive a large volume of supporting material for a candidate ... but these do not influence the committee."

Manning, 25, was a low-level intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010 when he was charged with leaking files including videos of a 2007 attack by a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, two of them Reuters news staff.

The Nobel committee, which also came under fire for awarding the Peace Prize to the European Union last year, has repeatedly rejected criticism over its selection of Obama before the first black U.S. president had achieved anything notable in office.

The 2013 Peace Prize will be announced on Oct. 11. A total of 259 people and groups were nominated by the February deadline, including Manning, Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Myanmar President Thein Sein. (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi, editing by Mark Heinrich)