Pvt Bradley Manning, currently held in solitary confinement by the US government, was last week placed on suicide risk, stripped of all clothing except his underwear and forced to remain in his cell 24 hours a day, actions his lawyer alleges as “abuse."
Manning is accused, but not convicted, of leaking government documents to Wikileaks and has become the center of attention in the Obama administration's efforts at shutting down all whistle blowers.
Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, filed an Article 138 Complaint last week with Colonel Daniel Choike, commander at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. The filing comes on the heels of the most recent harsh treatments being administered to Manning as he continues waiting for formal charges.
Held at Quantico for almost six months in solitary confinement, or Maximum (MAX) custody, and Prevention of Injury (POI) watch and held in solitary confinement in Iraq for two months before that, Manning was placed on suicide risk on January 18. The move, by Quantico Brig commander CWO4 Averhart, was done against the assessment of two forensic psychiatrists.
Suicide risk allowed the military to exert extreme measures on Manning. Describing on his professional website Manning’s story since arriving at Quantico on July 29, 2010, Coombs wrote:
“The suicide risk assignment meant that PFC Manning was required to remain in his cell for 24 hours a day. He was stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken away from him. He was forced to sit in essential blindness with the exception of the times that he was reading or given limited television privileges. During those times, his glasses were returned to him. Additionally, there was always a guard sitting outside of his cell watching him.”
As a result of the abuse complaint by Coombs, CWO4 Averhart removed Manning from suicide risk a day later, returning Manning back to POI watch. Coombs asserts that POI watch “is not much better” than suicide risk, stating:
"For 23 hours per day, he will sit in his cell. The guards will check on him every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning will be required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see him clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure that he is okay. He will receive each of his meals in his cell. He will not be allowed to have a pillow or sheets. He will not be allowed to have any personal items in his cell. He will only be allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read. The book or magazine will be taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep. He will be prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop. He will receive one hour of exercise outside of his cell daily. The guards will take him to an empty room and allow him to walk. He will usually just walk in figure eights around the room until his hour is complete. When he goes to sleep, he will be required to strip down to his underwear and surrender his clothing to the guards."
The Quantico Brig’s forensic psychiatrist first recommended Manning be removed from POI watch and changed from MAX custody to Medium custody (MDI) last August. That still has not happened. That recommendation came as a result of Manning’s “improvement and adjustment to confinement,” according to Coombs.
Manning’s harsh treatment, first reported by Salon in December, will likely lead to “long-term psychological injuries,” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote at the time.
The recent activities by the military and ensuing discussions since the story first broke in December has received the attention of Amnesty International (AI). In a letter (pdf) to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the group is urging him to “take effective measures” that will remove Manning from solitary confinement and “other undue restrictions.”
AI’s letter also provides great detail over Manning’s treatment, including the military’s failure to respond to counsel’s efforts at challenging that treatment. Manning has no table or chair in his cell for his meals. He is shackled during attorney visits at Quantico. The letter states Manning is:
“shackled at the hands and legs during approved social and family visits, despite all such visits at the facility being non-contact.”
Manning’s MAX custody classification also means he does not qualify for any work assignments that would have him away from his cell for most of the day. The AI letter refers to the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), internationally recognized principles. SMR Section C, rule 89 states “Untried prisoners shall always be offered opportunity to work” if they so choose.
In closing, the letter presents the case that the US government’s treatment of Manning is harsh and the ensuing behavioral changes will diminish his right to a fair trial:
“The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement -- which evidence suggest can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of concentration -- may further, undermine his ability to assist in his defence and thus his right to a fair trial.”
The Washington Post quotes First Lieutenant Scott Villiard, a Quantico spokesman: “The most important thing is that we're not treating Private Manning any differently from anyone else that would be in the same classification. Whether it's maximum custody or prevention of injury, he's being treated the same as anybody else.”
In the Salon story of December, Villiard objected to a description of Manning’s treatment, saying it’s not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole.”