While Julian Assange has been the subject of almost endless media attention, Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning, thought ot be one of Assange’s sources, has languished in military detention for five months, in conditions so extreme the UN’s top anti-torture envoy is his investigate his treatment. Glenn Greenwald at Salon was one of the first, if not the first to write about these conditions last week.
Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day—for seven straight months and counting—he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything….
Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture.
Torture expert and psychologist Jeff Kaye is sure these conditions amount to torture. It is just that simple.
Indeed, the conditions of solitary confinement are so onerous it led the International Committee of the Red Cross in a 2004 report to state, in regards to the CIA’s detention of so-called high-value detainees, that “strict solitary confinement in cells devoid of sunlight for nearly 23 hours a day constituted a serious violation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.” While Bradley Manning is not being held as an “enemy combatant,” the conditions under which he is being held are redolent of the torture inflicted upon U.S. “war on terror” detainees, or suffered under the terms of the military’s Army Field Manual Appendix M, where such detainees are held in conditions of isolation, including significant limitations on sleep and certain forms of overt sensory deprivation
Even if Bradley Manning is not being held in conditions as horrific as those CIA black site prisoners suffered in the early days of the Bush administration, his situation, like those of thousands of Supermax prisoners in the United States, are onerous and destructive enough. We must ask that the unnecessary POI orders be lifted, and Manning allowed social time with other prisoners, according to normal prison rules and safeguards. He should have full access to mail and the ability to write to others, and to exercise unrestricted by shackles and chains. He should be allowed normal bedding, and greater rights of privacy.
Isolation is a technique well-known to break down individuals. Why does the U.S. government wish to break down Bradley Manning? Is it to get him to confess, to force a plea bargain, to implicate Julian Assange or other people, or to make an example of him to those who would choose a higher good over the machinations of the U.S. government in a senseless and criminal war?
The Pentagon says the reason for this level of detention is for his own protection, via a Prevention of Injury (POI) order, though he’s never been on suicide watch and his military doctors say he isn’t suicidal. David House, one of the few people allowed to see Manning, has much more on Manning’s detention conditions and his mental health. It is something every American should read.