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Posted by on Dec 23, 2010 in Breaking News, Health, International, Law, Politics, Society, War | 0 comments

New Details on Bradley Manning’s Confinement

Recently, an MIT researcher named David House interviewed Army PFC Bradley Manning at the Quantico, Virginia, brig where he has been detained for five months, following two months of confinement in Kuwait. The interview (conducted under severely restrictive conditions, which House describes at the end of the article), contradicts in many important respects the account given by officials at the Pentagon and at Quantico, as well as in the stenographic accounts published by major news organizations such as the Washington Post.

Contrary to official spin, PFC Manning is not allowed to read newspapers and is restricted to one hour of television a day, from 7 pm to 8 pm. He is not permitted to view international news, and local news is not aired in the Quantico, Virginia, area from 7 pm to 8 pm (or in most parts of the United States, I would guess).

Contrary to official spin, PFC Manning is not allowed any kind of meaningful exercise. Apart from some “sporadic and rare” occasions, he is not allowed “outside or into the brig yard for either recreation [or] exercise.” Neither is he allowed to do even the most basic exercise routines in his cell.

PFC Manning has been living for these past five months at Quantico under a Prevention of Injury (POI) order that “limits his social contact, news consumption, ability to exercise, and that places restrictions on his ability to sleep” that is unjustified by the reality of his mental state and are being imposed in a manner inconsistent with longstanding guidelines and practice:

Manning is held in “maximum custody,” the military’s most severe detention policy. Manning is also confined under a longstanding Prevention of Injury (POI) order which limits his social contact, news consumption, ability to exercise, and that places restrictions on his ability to sleep.

Manning has been living under the solitary restrictions of POI for five months despite being cleared by a military psychologist earlier this year, and despite repeated calls from his attorney David Coombs to lift the severely restrictive and isolating order. POI orders are short-term restrictions that are typically implemented when a detainee changes confinement facilities and these orders are lifted after the detainee passes psychological evaluation.

Just to be clear about what “restrictions on his ability to sleep” means: Manning’s prison guards ask him every five minutes if he’s okay, and Manning is required to answer. A reader at Boing Boing points out that this is sleep deprivation, which used in this way constitutes torture:

I think you missed the part where they wake him every 5 minutes. He has to respond affirmatively every time the guards ask him if he’s OK. If not, they’ll enter his cell to make sure. Sleep deprivation is torture, no doubt about it.

Daphne Eviatar questions whether such treatment is “customary” for a prisoner like Manning who is not a physical threat to himself or anyone else, and who has been nothing but cooperative with the military authorities.

As Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a professor at Yale Law School told me, if these extreme conditions and deprivations are being imposed because the military believes Manning is a danger to himself, then “he should be in a hospital rather than a brig.” In any event, Fidell says he believes that Private Manning’s treatment is “not customary.”
The office of Manfred Nowak, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, has reportedly received a complaint charging exactly that. The U.N. is expected to investigate.

At the very least, the conditions would seem to amount to a violation of Article 13 of the UCMJ, which states:

No person, while being held for trial, may be subjected to punishment or penalty other than arrest or confinement upon the charges pending against him, nor shall the arrest or confinement imposed upon him be any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence, but he may be subjected to minor punishment during that period for infractions of discipline.

No one has claimed that Bradley Manning has been anything less than completely cooperative with prison guards. And given that he’s not accused of a violent crime, it’s difficult to see why such extreme security measures are necessary.

Glenn Greenwald has a piece today about that UN investigation. He also has more to say about the issue of solitary confinement, including the fact that the United States routinely condemns the practice when used by other countries:

As is true for so much of what it does, the U.S. Government routinely condemns similar acts — the use of prolonged solitary confinement in its most extreme forms and lengthy pretrial detention — when used by other countries.  See, for instance, the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report on Indonesia (“Officials held unruly detainees in solitary confinement for up to six days on a rice-and-water diet”); Iran (“Common methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement with extreme sensory deprivation . . .Prison conditions were poor. Many prisoners were held in solitary confinement . . . Authorities routinely held political prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods . . . All four [arrested bloggers] claimed authorities physically and psychologically abused them in detention, including subjecting them to prolonged periods of solitary confinement in a secret detention center without access to legal counsel or family”); Israel (“Israeli human rights organizations reported that Israeli interrogators . . .  kept prisoners in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement for long periods“); Iraq (“Individuals claimed to have been subjected to psychological and physical abuse, including . . . solitary confinement in Ashraf to discourage defections”); Yemen (“Sleep deprivation and solitary confinement were other forms of abuse reported in PSO prisons”); Central African Republic (“As of December, there were 308 inmates in Ngaragba Prison, most of whom are pretrial detainees. Several detainees had been held for seven months without appearing before a judge”); Burundi (“Human rights problems also included . . . prolonged pretrial detention“).