Bradley Manning’s Confinement Conditions are ‘Not Customary’

This past May, PFC Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst who allegedly boasted of leaking video and documents to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, was arrested. Originally held in Kuwait, in July he was transferred to a prison at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. (Firedoglake has a helpful timeline of events here.) According to Manning’s military defense lawyer, David Coombs, Manning is being held in maximum custody, alone in a cell about six by 12 feet. He does not see any other inmates and has only minimal exchanges with guards, who wake him up at 5:00 a.m. daily and check on him every five minutes. Coombs writes: “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.” According to Coombs, Manning eats all his meals in his cell, is not allowed to exercise in his cell (if he tries to do sit-ups the guards stop him) and is not allowed sheets or pillows to sleep with. The military’s explanation of these conditions is twofold. A Quantico prison spokesman told Agence France-Press that Manning is being held in “maximum custody” because he is considered a risk to national security. Manning is also said to be a threat to himself, given the serious trouble he’s in. As a result, he’s on “Prevention of Injury” watch, which accounts for the lack of sheets and pillows. But his lawyer thinks that’s a ruse. And indeed, it’s hard to imagine why prison officials would treat someone who they worry is mentally disturbed by isolating him to the point that, as medical experts have documented, is likely to make him crazy. His friend David House, one of the few people aside from his lawyer that’s been allowed to visit him, reports in a post today on Firedoglake that “it has become obvious to me that Manning’s physical and mental well-being are deteriorating.” (House also adds interesting details about Manning’s confinement conditions and treatment, including some which contradict prison officials’ claims.) 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.” Glenn Greenwald has done an excellent job of calling attention to Manning’s situation, which has sparked an active debate over whether the conditions of his confinement amount to torture. 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. In a recent blog post Manning’s lawyer writes that military case law would allow a judge to infer that the conditions of Manning’s confinement amount to punishment. As he writes in this post, citing the relevant case law:

Article 13 provides that pretrial confinement should not be “more rigorous than the circumstances require to insure” the servicemember’s presence at court. “Conditions that are sufficiently egregious may give rise to a permissive inference that an accused is being punished. . . .” United States v. King, 61 M.J. 225, 227-28 (C.A.A.F. 2005); see also United States v. Crawford, 62 M.J. 411 (C.A.A.F. 2006). Arbitrary or purposeless conditions also can be considered to raise an inference of punishment. King, 61 M.J. at 227-28 (citing United States v. James, 28 M.J. 214, 216 (C.M.A. 1989)).

Although Coombs has raised the issue with officials at Quantico, he can’t actually bring a motion for relief under Article 13 until the case is officially referred for court-martial. So far, although Manning has been charged, the case is still under investigation and court-martial has not yet begun. It therefore remains up to Quantico officials to address the situation. Although Coombs says that the Army Staff Judge Advocate’s office has tried to intervene to improve Manning’s conditions, it has so far been unsuccessful. Quantico is run by the Marines.


Published on December 23, 2010


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