For more than two and a half years, the military has been prosecuting Pfc. Bradley Manning for allegedly releasing classified information to WikiLeaks and this Saturday, February 23, he will have been imprisoned without trial for one thousand days.
The military judge in his court martial at Fort Meade ruled on January 8 that he was punished “unlawfully” during his nine months of confinement at the Quantico Marine Brig in Virginia. He was given a 112-day sentencing credit.
In March 2012, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez released a report where he condemned how the military had imposed “seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone” who had “not been found guilty of any crime.” He stated the treatment he had endured was “a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”
Mendez contended Manning had been held in conditions of solitary confinement, since he was confined to his cell for 23 hours a day. Judge Army Col. Denise Lind disagreed. She concluded in her ruling the government had “not held” Manning in solitary confinement because that means “alone and without human contact.” There were no doors separating him and there were regular walkthrough visits by commanding officers. He had human interaction.[The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has represented clients in solitary, criticized the judge's conclusion.]
Manning is no longer being held at Quantico. After media began to report on his confinement conditions in December 2010, supporters pushed to have him moved from the facility. Then-State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley said he believed how Manning was being treated was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” The attention his case was receiving led the military to move him to Leavenworth in Kansas on April 20, 2011, where he is now.
Remarkably, when Manning arrived at Leavenworth, he was allowed to move about without restraints for the first time in nine months. He was “concerned about it” because he was not used to being able to move freely. He went through the intake process without any shackles and expected to be subjected to the restrictive conditions he had been subjected to before at Quantico. A staff sergeant issued him some items and brought him to his cell. He entered the cell and the door closed. It was a “huge upgrade” and “completely different” from Quantico.
Throughout his confinement at Quantico, the Brig claimed to be afraid he would harm himself and they kept him on “prevention of injury” (POI) watch, a clinical psychiatric status for detainees who pose a risk to themselves. He was kept on this status even though a medical officer objected. He was also put on suicide risk twice and, when the medical officer recommended he be taken off that status, the Brig commanding officer disobeyed his recommendation.
On March 2, 2011, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes abused her authority and took Manning’s underwear away from him. Manning was frustrated with being kept on POI. He had been on the status for a long time. He was not doing anything to harm himself. He was not throwing himself against the walls or trying to drown his head in the toilet. So, he expressed to a superior officer, Master Sergeant Brian Papakie, that if he really wanted to commit suicide, he could use the waistband of his underwear. This was his way of communicating that, if he really wanted to act out, he would “generally act out.” If he wanted to hurt himself, he would use the things he had here now. But, the Brig took this statement and used it to justify keeping him in a status where he slept naked with two coarse and stiff suicide blankets for the rest of the nights that he was at the prison.
The following morning Manning stood naked at parade rest during morning count after an officer said something from an observation room that led Manning to believe he could not use his blankets to cover himself until he was given his clothing. No Duty Brig Supervisor objected to a soldier standing there naked. This was a moment that further galvanized support for having Manning moved from Quantico, and, in court, during deliberation over whether Manning was “unlawfully punished,” no officers could explain why Manning was permitted to stand naked (some even suspected he chose to stand naked because it would generate media attention).
Manning ate meals in his cell on a plastic tray with a metal spoon. He would request toilet paper when he wanted to use the bathroom. He would read books by authors like Brian Greene or Richard Dawkins. He was allowed only one book in his cell at a time and, when he wasn’t reading, the book would be taken away. He was prohibited from exercising so he would sometimes do various dance moves because that was not expressly unauthorized in his handling instructions. He would pretend he was “sword fighting,” lift imaginary weights or play peek-a-boo with himself in the mirror, which was the “most entertaining thing” in his cell.
The cell was 6 X 8 feet. He had a “rack,” a mattress on a large metal fixture where he he slept. It was maybe two feet off the ground. There was a toilet and sink about “waist high”—maybe three and a half feet. Nothing obstructed the view of the toilet. The observation room was slightly offset but right across from his cell and could see his entire cell. He was constantly observed. He would also be regularly asked by an officer in the Brig to answer if he was “okay.”
Manning suffered from “sheer complete out of my mind boredom.” He spent “a lot of time looking for things to stay active” and keep his mind from going back to a state similar to what his mental state was like in Kuwait. He tried to feel like he was not trapped in a cage. He tried to make sure he knew where he was and still knew his environment. He tried to keep from falling asleep. The appearance of sleep was considered sleeping and sleep was prohibited.
At the end of July 2010, he was transferred from Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to Quantico. He was imprisoned for nearly two months in the camp and initially allowed to be in general population. There was an incident, however, where he had a mental breakdown and from that point onward he was kept in isolation.
He was put in what he saw as an “animal cage.” Guards would do what Manning called a “shakedown” and come in and tear his stuff up. He thought, “I am going to die and I am in a cage and I don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s how I saw it.” He contemplated taking his life but it was futile. He had no means to do it. There wasn’t anything to hang a noose on if he made one. It “felt pointless” to try and commit suicide. (Guards found nooses during one of their “shakedowns.”)
Manning spent at least thirty days in this cage. According to Manning, “My world had just shrunk. It just shrunk to this 8 X 8 metal cell. I didn’t know what time it was.” Usually, he had known what was going on in the world before his confinement. He had a “solid knowledge of what [was] going on in terms of [his] job and family.” He knew current events that were happening. He was “grounded pretty firmly” and knew how to connect to the rest of the world. But, after being cut off, he started to not get everything. “Living inside limited surroundings,” his “world just shrunk to Camp Arifjan and then that cage.”
He was arrested on May 29, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Iraq, where he had been working as an analyst. He had been chatting with hacker Adrian Lamo for the past days and Lamo informed the authorities of what Manning was telling him in confidence during the chat about handing over information to WikiLeaks to expose corruption and start worldwide discussions throughout the world.
The date of his trial has been postponed four times: first it was scheduled for sometime in September 2012, then it was scheduled for February this year, then it was scheduled for mid-March of this year and now it is scheduled for June 3 of this year.
His defense argues he has had his speedy trial rights violated. The military prosecutors have requested delay after delay after delay for various reasons: a sanity review board to determine whether Manning was fit to stand trial was having trouble getting organized, classified information prosecutors thought they needed for the Article 32 hearing in December 2011 was not processed, more classified information for the court martial needed to be processed, etc. (The judge has not ruled on the speedy trial motion yet.)
He has had three birthdays while in prison. For one of them, he was denied a birthday package from family because, as Master Sgt. Craig Blenis, who was supposed to be Manning’s counselor and advocate at Quantico, joked in an email, officers “felt like being a couple of dicks.”
Manning faces 22 charges. The most significant charge is that of “aiding the enemy.” If convicted of “aiding the enemy,” he would serve life in prison without parole.
The government argues his act helped al Qaeda. In fact, they went to the trouble of declassifying information that showed Osama bin Laden obtained copies of the US State Embassy cables and some war logs released. They haven’t demonstrated that any members of al Qaeda shared these with Bin Laden after requesting them from a staffer at WikiLeaks. They are simply saying it was available on the internet for terrorists to read and exploit for their own purpose so Manning should be convicted of “aiding the enemy.” But, there is virtually no difference between the New York Times publishing information that terrorists can read and WikiLeaks publishing information that terrorists can read.
Manning’s case has developed into the biggest and one of the most important military justice cases in history. He has endured punishment in prison that no person should have to endure, even if they have been convicted. Incidentally, the longer it takes to get to trial, the more Americans support him as they come to the conclusion the military has mishandled the case. He has been punished enough for his alleged acts and should be set free now.