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How Is Bradley Manning Really Being Treated?

By David Swanson

15 January, 2011

There are conflicting accounts of exactly how Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower on countless U.S. government crimes, has been illegally punished for 8 months so far, pre-trial. There's no denying that this young man who allegedly sought to make his government's actions known for the public good and did not seek to profit thereby has been denied a speedy trial. The question is to what extent he has already been punished, and even cruelly and unusually punished, without having been convicted of any crime. But the accounts differ less than it at first appears. And there is one sure way to find out the facts.

Let's look first at what Glenn Greenwald reported on December 15th. Greenwald wrote that he had interviewed "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." In Greenwald's account, Manning had been a model detainee and had never been on suicide watch, but had been declared from the start a "Maximum Custody Detainee," and had been held from the start in "intensive solitary confinement . . . for 23 out of 24 hours every day . . . he sits completely alone in his cell."

In Greenwald's account, Manning is forbidden from exercising in his cell and is under "constant surveillance." He has, or at least had at this time, no pillow or sheets. And during his one hour out of his cell he is barred from accessing any news (apparently meaning on television or radio) according to some of Greenwald's sources, presumably including David House, a friend of Manning's whom Greenwald cites, but not according to Lt. Villiard. According to Greenwald, "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." Greenwald did not say whether Manning's cell was silent or whether he could hear the voices of other prisoners or guards. He did not say whether the cell had a window or access to daylight. He did say that Manning was being administered regular doses of anti-depressants. I am assuming no one outside the military is able to confirm what drugs Manning has actually been administered or whether they have all been antidepressants, and that Manning himself cannot confirm this. But there is one way to find out.


On December 18th, Manning's lawyer David Coombs wrote about Manning's treatment on his website. Coombs used two terms to describe Manning's detention: "maximum custody" and "Prevention of Injury (POI) watch." Coombs continued:

"His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length. The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet. . . . [H]e is not allowed to sleep at anytime between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards. He is allowed to watch television [apparently in his cell] during the day. The television stations are limited to the basic local stations. His access to the television ranges from 1 to 3 hours on weekdays to 3 to 6 hours on weekends."

Coombs continued, describing the cell: "He cannot see other inmates from his cell. He can occasionally hear other inmates talk. Due to being a pretrial confinement facility, inmates rarely stay at the facility for any length of time. Currently, there are no other inmates near his cell.

"From 7:00 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., he is given correspondence time. He is given access to a pen and paper. He is allowed to write letters to family, friends, and his attorneys. Each night, during his correspondence time, he is allowed to take a 15 to 20 minute shower. On weekends and holidays, he is allowed to have approved visitors see him from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. He is allowed to receive letters from those on his approved list and from his legal counsel. If he receives a letter from someone not on his approved list, he must sign a rejection form. The letter is then either returned to the sender or destroyed.

"He is allowed to have any combination of up to 15 books or magazines. He must request the book or magazine by name. Once the book or magazine has been reviewed by the literary board at the confinement facility, and approved, he is allowed to have someone on his approved list send it to him. The person sending the book or magazine to him must do so through a publisher or an approved distributor such as Amazon. They are not allowed to mail the book or magazine directly to PFC Manning.

"Due to being held on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch: PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day. The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay. . . . He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow.

"He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell. He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep. He is 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 does receive one hour of 'exercise' outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell. When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning."


On December 23rd, David House posted his own report on Manning's condition:

"In his five months of detention [not counting two previous months in Kuwait], it has become obvious to me that Manning's physical and mental well-being are deteriorating. What Manning needs, and what his attorney has already urged, is to have the unnecessary 'Prevention of Injury' order lifted that severely restricts his ability to exercise, communicate, and 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."

House quotes from a Daily Beast report of an interview with Coombs stating that Manning was initially -- and the article implies, baselessly -- placed on suicide watch: "When he was first arrested, Manning was put on suicide watch, but his status was quickly changed to 'Prevention of Injury' watch (POI), and under this lesser pretense he has been forced into his life of mind-numbing tedium. . . . Both Coombs and Manning's psychologist, Coombs says, are sure Manning is mentally healthy, that there is no evidence he's a threat to himself, and shouldn't be held in such severe conditions under the artifice of his own protection."

House quoted statements the Pentagon released in response to Greenwald's report: "A maximum custody detainee is able to receive the same privileges that a detainee classified as general population may receive. . . . A maximum custody detainee also receives daily television, hygiene call, reading and outside physical activity without restraint. . . . Pfc. Manning, as well as every other maximum custody detainee, is allotted approximately one hour of television per day. He may view any of the available channels. . . . Pfc. Manning is allotted one hour of recreation time per day, as is every other maximum custody detainee. Depending on the weather, his recreation time may be spend indoors or outdoors. Activities may include calisthenics, running, basketball, etc. . . . Pfc. Manning, as well as all other detainees, is issued adequate bedding."

House wrote that Manning had denied to him, during recent visits, some of the military's assertions:

"Manning related to me on December 18 2010 that he is not allowed to view international news during his television period. He mentioned that he might theoretically be able to view local news, but his television period is typically from 7pm – 8pm such that no local news is playing in the Quantico, VA area. Manning told me explicitly on December 18 2010 that he is not, nor has he ever been, allowed newspapers while in confinement. When I said 'The Pentagon has stated that you are allowed newspapers', his immediate reaction was surprised laughter.

". . . Manning stated to me on December 18 2010 that he has not been outside or into the brig yard for either recreation nor exercise in four full weeks. He related that visits to the outdoors have been infrequent and sporadic for the past several months."

". . . Manning related to me on December 18 2010 that he does not receive any substantive exercise and cannot perform even basic exercises in his cell. When told of the Pentagon's statement that he did indeed receive exercise, Manning's reply was that he is able to exercise insofar as walking in chains is a form of exercise."

". . . Manning related to me on December 19 2010 that his blankets are similar in weight and heft to lead aprons used in X-ray laboratories, and similar in texture to coarse and stiff carpet. He . . . expressed concern that he had to lie very still at night to avoid receiving carpet burns. The problem of carpet burns was exacerbated, he related, by the stipulation that he must sleep only in his boxer shorts as part of the longstanding POI order. Manning also stated on December 19 2010 that hallway-mounted lights shine through his window at night. This constant illumination is consistent with reports from attorney David Coombs' blog that marines must visually inspect Manning as he sleeps."


On January 14th, Scott Shane of the New York Times published the military's claims:

"The military rejects accusations that Private Manning has been mistreated. 'Poppycock,' said Col. T. V. Johnson, a Quantico spokesman. He insisted that the conditions of confinement were dictated by brig rules for a pretrial detainee like Private Manning. The soldier has been designated for 'maximum custody' — applied because his escape would pose a national security risk — and placed on 'prevention-of-injury watch,' restrictions imposed so that he does not injure himself. That status is based on the judgment of military medical experts and the observations of brig guards, Colonel Johnson said. Guards check Private Manning every five minutes but allow him to sleep without interruption from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., when only dim night lights are on, unless they need to wake him to be certain he is breathing. Colonel Johnson denied that Private Manning was in solitary confinement, as has been widely claimed, saying that he could talk with guards and with prisoners in nearby cells, though he could not see them. He leaves his 6-by-12-foot cell for a daily hour of exercise, and for showers, phone calls, meetings with his lawyer and weekend visits by friends and relatives, the colonel said. The prisoner can read and watch television and correspond with people on an approved list. He is not permitted to speak to the media. 'Pfc. Manning is being treated just like every other detainee in the brig,' said an internal military review concluded on Dec. 27 and read to a reporter by Colonel Johnson."


What qualifies lights as dim is open to debate. Making certain someone is breathing has the same effect as maliciously interrupting their sleep for no good reason. The guards do not converse with Manning, according to his lawyer. And being permitted to talk to other prisoners by shouting to other cells is all very good, unless those cells are empty. His exercise is not described here. He may be being treated like every other prisoner would be if they were put permanently on POI status, but are they? I understand from someone who has spoken with Villiard that he admits the duration of Manning's POI status is unusual. And I understand from the Eighth Amendment that cruel and unusual punishment is illegal, as is any punishment prior to a trial, and as is denial of a speedy trial (see the Sixth Amendment).

Manning's lawyer has asked repeatedly to have the POI status lifted and received no response. He is now asking that Manning be freed until trial:

"Due to the lack of response from the confinement facility, the defense, pursuant to the provisions of Rule for Courts-Martial (R.C.M.) 305(g), filed a request earlier today with the Garrison Commander to direct the release of PFC Bradley Manning from pretrial confinement. This request is based upon the fact that the confinement conditions currently being endured by PFC Manning are more rigorous than necessary to guarantee his presence at trial, and that the concerns raised by the government at the time of pretrial confinement are no longer applicable."

This is the one way to learn the truth of the matter: Free Bradley Manning.

There is also a way to hide even more: keep Manning in a condition that is almost guaranteed to damage his mind, and then conduct a secret trial.

Bear in mind that the materials Manning is alleged to have made public were available to some 3 million people while "secret." That's more people than some governments employ. Manning apparently believed the rest of us had a right to know what was being done with our money and in our names. On Christmas Eve, Manning released this statement through his lawyer:

"I greatly appreciate everyone's support and well wishes during this time. I am also thankful for everything that has been done to aid in my defense. I ask that everyone takes the time to remember those who are separated from their loved ones at this time due to deployment and important missions. Specifically, I am thinking of those that I deployed with and have not seen for the last seven months, and of the staff here at the Quantico Confinement Facility who will be spending their Christmas without their family."

If you are as concerned about Bradley Manning's condition as he is about his jailers', you can join in a demonstration outside the brig where he is held on Monday, Martin Luther King Day, January 17th in Quantico, Va. Our demand will be a simple one: Free Bradley Manning!


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