December 2010, Week 3


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Wed, 15 Dec 2010 22:08:27 -0500
text/plain (471 lines)
The Inhumane Conditions of Bradley Manning's Detention 

By Glenn Greenwald
December 15, 2010

(updated below)

Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private
accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks,
has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any
other crime.  Despite that, he has been detained at the
U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months
-- and for two months before that in a military jail in
Kuwait -- under conditions that constitute cruel and
inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many
nations, even torture.  Interviews with several people
directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's
detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig
official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of
what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker
is subjected to detention conditions likely to create
long-term psychological injuries.

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.  And as is true of many
prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort,
the brig's medical personnel now administer regular
doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his
brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.

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.  In his widely praised March, 2009 New
Yorker article -- entitled "Is Long-Term Solitary
Confinement Torture?" -- the surgeon and journalist
Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal
anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, "all human
beings experience isolation as torture."  By itself,
prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a
person's mind and drives them into insanity.  A March,
2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of
Psychiatry and the Law explains that "solitary
confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand;
indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can
be as clinically distressing as physical torture."

For that reason, many Western nations -- and even some
non-Western nations notorious for human rights abuses
-- refuse to employ prolonged solitary confinement
except in the most extreme cases of prisoner violence.
"It's an awful thing, solitary," John McCain wrote of
his experience in isolated confinement in Vietnam. "It
crushes your spirit."  As Gawande documented: "A U.S.
military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval
aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam . . .
reported that they found social isolation to be as
torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they
suffered."  Gawande explained that America's
application of this form of torture to its own citizens
is what spawned the torture regime which President
Obama vowed to end:

    This past year, both the Republican and the
    Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly
    for banning torture and closing the facility in
    Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have
    been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack
    Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the
    question of whether prolonged solitary confinement
    is torture. . . .

    This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. .
    . . Our willingness to discard these standards for
    American prisoners made it easy to discard the
    Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of
    foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of
    America's moral stature in the world.  In much the
    same way that a previous generation of Americans
    countenanced legalized segregation, ours has
    countenanced legalized torture. And there is no
    clearer manifestation of this than our routine use
    of solitary confinement . . . .

It's one thing to impose such punitive, barbaric
measures on convicts who have proven to be violent when
around other prisoners; at the Supermax in Florence,
inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes and who
pose a threat to prison order and the safety of others
are subjected to worse treatment than what Manning
experiences.  But it's another thing entirely to impose
such conditions on individuals, like Manning, who have
been convicted of nothing and have never demonstrated
an iota of physical threat or disorder.

In 2006, a bipartisan National Commission on America's
Prisons was created and it called for the elimination
of prolonged solitary confinement.  Its Report
documented that conditions whereby "prisoners end up
locked in their cells 23 hours a day, every day. . . is
so severe that people end up completely isolated,
living in what can only be described as torturous
conditions."  The Report documented numerous
psychiatric studies of individuals held in prolonged
isolation which demonstrate "a constellation of
symptoms that includes overwhelming anxiety, confusion
and hallucination, and sudden violent and self-
destructive outbursts."  The above-referenced article
from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry
and the Law states:  "Psychological effects can include
anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances,
perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia,
and psychosis."

When one exacerbates the harms of prolonged isolation
with the other deprivations to which Manning is being
subjected, long-term psychiatric and even physical
impairment is likely.  Gawande documents that "EEG
studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown
diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a
week or more of solitary confinement."  Medical tests
conducted in 1992 on Yugoslavian prisoners subjected to
an average of six months of isolation -- roughly the
amount to which Manning has now been subjected --
"revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the
most severe were found in prisoners who had endured
either head trauma sufficient to render them
unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement.  Without
sustained social interaction, the human brain may
become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic
injury."  Gawande's article is filled with horrifying
stories of individuals subjected to isolation similar
to or even less enduring than Manning's who have
succumbed to extreme long-term psychological breakdown.

Manning is barred from communicating with any
reporters, even indirectly, so nothing he has said can
be quoted here.  But David House, a 23-year-old MIT
researcher who befriended Manning after his detention
(and then had his laptops, camera and cellphone seized
by Homeland Security when entering the U.S.) is one of
the few people to have visited Manning several times at
Quantico.  He describes palpable changes in Manning's
physical appearance and behavior just over the course
of the several months that he's been visiting him.
Like most individuals held in severe isolation, Manning
sleeps much of the day, is particularly frustrated by
the petty, vindictive denial of a pillow or sheets, and
suffers from less and less outdoor time as part of his
one-hour daily removal from his cage.

This is why the conditions under which Manning is being
detained were once recognized in the U.S. -- and are
still recognized in many Western nations -- as not only
cruel and inhumane, but torture.  More than a century
ago, U.S. courts understood that solitary confinement
was a barbaric punishment that severely harmed the
mental and physical health of those subjected to it.
The Supreme Court's 1890 decision in In re Medley noted
that as a result of solitary confinement as practiced
in the early days of the United States, many "prisoners
fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-
fatuous condition . . . and others became violently
insane; others still, committed suicide; while those
who stood the ordeal better . . . [often] did not
recover sufficient mental activity to be of any
subsequent service to the community."  And in its 1940
decision in Chambers v. Florida, the Court
characterized prolonged solitary confinement as
"torture" and compared it to "[t]he rack, the
thumbscrew, [and] the wheel."

The inhumane treatment of Manning may have
international implications as well.  There are multiple
proceedings now pending in the European Union Human
Rights Court, brought by "War on Terror" detainees
contesting their extradition to the U.S. on the ground
that the conditions under which they likely will be
held -- particularly prolonged solitary confinement --
violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which
(along with the Convention Against Torture) bars EU
states from extraditing anyone to any nation where
there is a real risk of inhumane and degrading
treatment.  The European Court of Human Rights has in
the past found detention conditions violative of those
rights (in Bulgaria) where "the [detainee] spent 23
hours a day alone in his cell; had limited interaction
with other prisoners; and was only allowed two visits
per month."  From the Journal article referenced above:

    International treaty bodies and human rights
    experts, including the Human Rights Committee, the
    Committee against Torture, and the U.N. Special
    Rapporteur on Torture, have concluded that solitary
    confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or
    degrading treatment in violation of the
    International Covenant on Civil and Political
    Rights and the Convention against Torture and other
    Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or
    Punishment.  They have specifically criticized
    supermax confinement in the United States because
    of the mental suffering it inflicts.

Subjecting a detainee like Manning to this level of
prolonged cruel and inhumane detention can thus
jeopardize the ability of the U.S. to secure
extradition for other prisoners, as these conditions
are viewed in much of the civilized world as barbaric.
Moreover, because Manning holds dual American and U.K.
citizenship (his mother is British), it is possible for
British agencies and human rights organizations to
assert his consular rights against these oppressive
conditions.  At least some preliminary efforts are
underway in Britain to explore that mechanism as a
means of securing more humane treatment for Manning.
Whatever else is true, all of this illustrates what a
profound departure from international norms is the
treatment to which the U.S. Government is subjecting

* * * * *

The plight of Manning has largely been overshadowed by
the intense media fixation on WikiLeaks, so it's worth
underscoring what it is that he's accused of doing and
what he said in his own reputed words about these acts.
If one believes the authenticity of the highly edited
chat logs of Manning's online conversations with Adrian
Lamo that have been released by Wired (that magazine
inexcusably continues to conceal large portions of
those logs), Manning clearly believed that he was a
whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives, and
probably was exactly that.  If, for instance, he really
is the leaker of the Apache helicopter attack video --
a video which sparked very rare and much-needed
realization about the visceral truth of what American
wars actually entail -- as well as the war and
diplomatic cables revealing substantial government
deceit, brutality, illegality and corruption, then he's
quite similar to Daniel Ellsberg.  Indeed, Ellsberg
himself said the very same thing about Manning in June
on Democracy Now in explaining why he considers the
Army Private to be a "hero":

    The fact is that what Lamo reports Manning is
    saying has a very familiar and persuasive ring to
    me.  He reports Manning as having said that what he
    had read and what he was passing on were horrible
    -- evidence of horrible machinations by the US
    backdoor dealings throughout the Middle East and,
    in many cases, as he put it, almost crimes. And let
    me guess that -- he's not a lawyer, but I'll guess
    that what looked to him like crimes are crimes,
    that he was putting out. We know that he put out,
    or at least it's very plausible that he put out,
    the videos that he claimed to Lamo.  And that's
    enough to go on to get them interested in pursuing
    both him and the other.

    And so, what it comes down, to me, is -- and I say
    throwing caution to the winds here -- is that what
    I've heard so far of Assange and Manning -- and I
    haven't met either of them -- is that they are two
    new heroes of mine.

To see why that's so, just recall some of what Manning
purportedly said about why he chose to leak, at least
as reflected in the edited chat logs published by

    Lamo: what's your endgame plan, then?. . .

    Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] -
    and god knows what happens now - hopefully
    worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms - if
    not, than [sic] we're doomed - as a species - i
    will officially give up on the society we have if
    nothing happens - the reaction to the video gave me
    immense hope; CNN's iReport was overwhelmed;
    Twitter exploded - people who saw, knew there was
    something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the
    video. David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded
    out here. . . . - i want people to see the truth.
    regardless of who they are. because without
    information, you cannot make informed decisions as
    a public.

    if i knew then, what i knew now - kind of thing, or
    maybe im just young, naive, and stupid . . . im
    hoping for the former - it cant be the latter -
    because if it is. were fucking screwed (as a
    society) - and i dont want to believe that we're

Manning described the incident which first made him
seriously question the U.S. Government: when he was
instructed to work on the case of Iraqi "insurgents"
who had been detained for distributing so-called
"insurgent" literature which, when Manning had it
translated, turned out to be nothing more than "a
scholarly critique against PM Maliki":

    i had an interpreter read it for me. and when i
    found out that it was a benign political critique
    titled "Where did the money go?" and following the
    corruption trail within the PM's cabinet. i
    immediately took that information and *ran* to the
    officer to explain what was going on. he didn't
    want to hear any of it. he told me to shut up and
    explain how we could assist the FPs in finding
    *MORE* detainees.

    i had always questioned the things worked, and
    investigated to find the truth. but that was a
    point where i was a *part* of something. i was
    actively involved in something that i was
    completely against.

And Manning explained why he never considered the
thought of selling this classified information to a
foreign nation for substantial profit or even just
secretly transmitting it to foreign powers, as he
easily could have done:

    Manning: i mean what if i were someone more
    malicious- i could've sold to russia or china, and
    made bank?

    Lamo: why didn't you?

    Manning: because it's public data

    Lamo: i mean, the cables

    Manning: it belongs in the public domain -
    information should be free - it belongs in the
    public domain - because another state would just
    take advantage of the information. try and get some
    edge - if its out in the open. it should be a
    public good.

That's a whistleblower in the purest and most noble
form:  discovering government secrets of criminal and
corrupt acts and then publicizing them to the world not
for profit, not to give other nations an edge, but to
trigger "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms."
Given how much Manning has been demonized -- at the
same time that he's been rendered silent by the ban on
his communication with any media -- it's worthwhile to
keep all of that in mind.

But ultimately, what one thinks of Manning's alleged
acts is irrelevant to the issue here.  The U.S. ought
at least to abide by minimal standards of humane
treatment in how it detains him.  That's true for every
prisoner, at all times.  But departures from such
standards are particularly egregious where, as here,
the detainee has merely been accused, but never
convicted, of wrongdoing.  These inhumane conditions
make a mockery of Barack Obama's repeated pledge to end
detainee abuse and torture, as prolonged isolation --
exacerbated by these other deprivations -- is at least
as damaging, as violative of international legal
standards, and almost as reviled around the world, as
the waterboard, hypothermia and other Bush-era tactics
that caused so much controversy.

What all of this achieves is clear.  Having it known
that the U.S. could and would disappear people at will
to "black sites," assassinate them with unseen drones,
imprison them for years without a shred of due process
even while knowing they were innocent, torture them
mercilessly, and in general acts as a lawless and rogue
imperial power created a climate of severe intimidation
and fear.  Who would want to challenge the U.S.
Government in any way -- even in legitimate ways --
knowing that it could and would engage in such lawless,
violent conduct without any restraints or

That is plainly what is going on here.  Anyone remotely
affiliated with WikiLeaks, including American citizens
(and plenty of other government critics), has their
property seized and communications stored at the border
without so much as a warrant.  Julian Assange --
despite never having been charged with, let alone
convicted of, any crime -- has now spent more than a
week in solitary confinement with severe restrictions
under what his lawyer calls "Dickensian conditions."
But Bradley Manning has suffered much worse, and not
for a week, but for seven months, with no end in sight.
If you became aware of secret information revealing
serious wrongdoing, deceit and/or criminality on the
part of the U.S. Government, would you -- knowing that
you could and likely would be imprisoned under these
kinds of repressive, torturous conditions for months on
end without so much as a trial:  just locked away by
yourself 23 hours a day without recourse -- be willing
to expose it?  That's the climate of fear and
intimidation which these inhumane detention conditions
are intended to create.

* * * * *

Those wishing to contribute to Bradley Manning's
defense fund can do so here.  All of those means are
reputable, but everyone should carefully read the
various options presented in order to decide which one
seems best.

UPDATE:  I was contacted by Lt. Villiard, who claims
there is one factual inaccuracy in what I wrote:
specifically, he claims that Manning is not restricted
from accessing news or current events during the
prescribed time he is permitted to watch television.
That is squarely inconsistent with reports from those
with first-hand knowledge of Manning's detention, but
it's a fairly minor dispute in the scheme of things.


Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

Submit via email: [log in to unmask]

Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3

Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq

Sub/Unsub: http://portside.org/subscribe-and-unsubscribe

Search Portside archives: http://portside.org/archive

Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate