Image: Bradley Manning
EPA file
Pfc. Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst, is suspected by the military of leaking thousands of secret U.S. documents to WikiLeaks.
msnbc.com
updated 1/6/2011 5:37:02 PM ET 2011-01-06T22:37:02

Rights advocates, government watchdogs and supporters of alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning say they're becoming increasingly alarmed that the conditions under which the 22-year-old Army private is being held could amount to torture.

In the latest public pronouncements calling attention to Manning's plight, the Psychologists for Social Responsibility this week sent an open letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying it is "deeply concerned" about Manning's confinement conditions at a military prison at Quantico, Va.

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"As an organization of psychologists and other mental health professionals, PsySR is aware that solitary confinement can have severely deleterious effects on the psychological well-being of those subjected to it," the group said. "We therefore call for a revision in the conditions of PFC Manning’s incarceration while he awaits trial, based on the exhaustive documentation and research that have determined that solitary confinement is, at the very least, a form of cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment in violation of U.S. law."

The letter deplores the "needless brutality" of Manning's conditions and says they undermine his right to a fair trial.

"Coercive conditions of detention also increase the likelihood of the prisoner 'cooperating' in order to improve those circumstances, even to the extent of giving false testimony," the letter said. "Thus, such harsh conditions are counter to the interests of justice."

A Quantico prison spokesman denied that Manning is being treated unduly harshly. "Pfc. Manning is not being treated any differently than any other maximum-custody detainee in the brig," Lt. Brian Villiard told msnbc.com on Thursday.

According to his lawyer, David E. Coombs, Manning has been held in maximum custody under a "prevention of injury" watch at the Marine Corps brig at Quantico since July, when he was charged with disclosing classified U.S. information. The military suspects Manning downloaded and leaked a video purportedly showing U.S. helicopters firing on civilians in Iraq on July 12, 2007.

The U.S. military also suspects him of being the source of the leak of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other government documents to WikiLeaks, though no charges have been filed in that case.

Coombs says Manning is confined in a 6-by-12-foot cell with a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet for about 23 hours a day. On a "typical day," he is awakened at 5 a.m. and is not allowed to sleep between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.; if he tries to sleep during those hours, guards will make him sit up or stand. He eats all his meals in his cell. He is allowed one hour of "exercise" daily outside his cell, consisting of walking in figure eights in an empty room, according to Coombs. When he goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and give his clothing to the guards. He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.

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Coombs has said that Manning's confinement conditions amount to punishment, even though he has yet to go to trial.

David House, a 23-year-old MIT researcher who has visited Manning several times at Quantico, contends that because Manning is under a "prevention of injury" watch, he is subjected to conditions "far beyond" other maximum-custody prisoners at the brig.

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"Over the course of my visits to see Bradley in Quantico, it’s become increasingly clear that the severe, inhumane conditions of his detention are wearing on Manning. The extraordinary restrictions of Manning’s basic rights to sleep, exercise, and communicate under the Prevention of Injury order are unnecessary and should be lifted immediately," House wrote in a recent blog post.

The United Nations' top anti-torture envoy, Manfred Nowak, is looking into a complaint that the Army private is being mistreated in custody, his office confirmed late last month.

'Treated equally'
Villiard, the Quantico spokesman, denied that Manning is in "solitary confinement" and said his conditions are no different than the brig's other maximum custody detainees. All detainees at Quantico, like Manning, are either awaiting or undergoing trial.

"He lives in his own cell. He’s allowed to converse with other detainees if he chooses to do so," Villiard said, noting that the layout of the brig is such that detainees can hear but can't see each other.

"He is treated equally across the board as it relates to other detainees," Villiard said. "It’s a brig. I’m not a qualified person to talk about what is torture and what is not. It’s a military brig and it’s not being run any differently than any other military brig."

He said Manning receives "regular visits from both medical and psychological providers" to ensure his well-being.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that the Army is assembling a special board to evaluate Manning's mental state.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Manning, no relation to Bradley Manning, told the newspaper that no further legal proceedings will happen until a recommendation is made on his fitness to stand trial.

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Bradley Manning's supporters and rights advocates have urged citizens to contact Quantico and ask that the restrictions of the "prevention of injury" order be lifted.

Villiard said Quantico has received "a good number" of phone calls from concerned citizens about Manning. He said most of them are relieved when base officials explain that Manning is not being treated any differently than other detainees.

"There’s nothing going on here that the Marine Corps has any reason to be concerned about and there's no reason for the civilian community to be concerned about, either," Villiard said.

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Video: Manning’s pal on conditions of detention

  1. Closed captioning of: Manning’s pal on conditions of detention

    >>> the man dubbed a high-tech terrorist by the white house . assange fired back at his political critics and media outlets who once helped him and are now trying to distance themselves from his group.

    >> they believe that if they say, well, he's not really a journalist, they can have the washington authorities target us and destroy us and somehow steer clear of the cross fire , which they're worried will scatter out to all journalists. i have to message to them. they're going to be next.

    >> mr. assange also raised concerns about the treatment of bradley manning, concern also shared by the united nations . he is the army private believed to be the source of the leaked information.

    >> he is a young man that has been caught up in this, kept in solitary confinement for some six months. some 5,000 hours now. in conditions that were even worse than the ones that i was in. he's now held in a military bridge . his visits are very limited. only once a week. and his lawyer had said they've been getting worse and his psychological health the getting worse.

    >> we're joined by one of the few people who have been able to see bradley manning, his friend, david house, who joins us exclusively from boston. thank you for join us. when was the last time you saw him?

    >> i traveled to see him last weekend.

    >> describe if you will, his physical and mental state . you're very concerned about both.

    >> i definitely am. i've been traveling to visit bradley since september. i've noticed a remarkable decline in his psychological state. he's developed very big bags under his eyes. appears to be very weak from a lack of exercise and has difficulty keeping up with some conversational topics, which never used to be the case. i think the conditions he's being kept in are inhumane and they're starting to weigh on his personality and his physical appearance .

    >> talk more about his confinement. he's in solitary confinement , correct?

    >> correct. glenn greenwald released details. a spokesperson and brig official released statements refuting the claims. they said that bradley manning was allowed access to newspapers, allowed exercise in the form of running or basketball, so he wasn't restricted. from talking to bradley this past weekend, i discovered these pentagon claims are completely false. in fact, bradley 's only exercise is walking for one hour a day in chains in a empty room. he's in his cell for three hours a day. which is solitary confinement and he's not allowed newspapers or has he been allowed newspapers. this damage control by the pentag pentagon wreaks either a misunderstanding or outright deception.

    >> i was reading your piece about your visit with bradley manning. early on, you say when you were first starting to visit him, he was reticent to talk about his confinement. the conditions he found himself in, but on this last visit, you were able to, or he was able to talk i guess more freely, if you will, about his condition. what's changed? why is he talking about his conditions now as opposed to before?

    >> bradley 's a very humble fellow, so in our early conversations, he wouldn't talk about himself much. this recent visit, i kind of revolved myself that i really had to break through this and get to his conditions of confinement. it was the time to do so. by pushing, i was able to get him to open up more. i should have pushed much earlier.

    >> i have to ask you this since you're one of two people, besides his lawyer, who have seen him. has he ever talked to you about julian assange? have you asked him if he knows julian assange? if he's connected in any way?

    >> we have never mentioned any details relating to his case. our conversations are very abstract and i'm mostly there to give him mental engagement. in terms of that, no, he's never mentioned anything, but it has been stated in a recent "new york times" article that the pentagon may be treating him in such harsh conditions to get him to kol over on assange.

    >> this might be unfair, but since you've spent time with him and know him, do you think there's a connection between the two?

    >> i could only speculate and i think that all information about bradley 's alleged connection to wikileaks or assange flows from one very unreliable source, who was admitted to a psychiatric clinic three weeks before he came out with the story. i think we should be asking ourselves if this connection exists at all.

    >> there are laws to protect whistleblowers in the united states . do you think bradley manning did anything wrong?

    >> if the accusations are true, i think he is an ethical giant of our generation. i think that perhaps in this case, america has judged him in the press too quickly and we should consider why we keep alleged whistleblowers locked up in solitary confinement .

    >> item going to bring it back to julian assange. since there seems to be a connection, talk if you will about your thoughts on the other man at the center of this, julian assange. do you hold him responsible for the situation bradley manning finds himself in?

    >> i think that in order to comment on that, i would have to have some information about whether julian and bradley had any relationship and again, all information to that fact is coming from one very unreliable source.

    >> so then how about step back to the 30,000 foot level then and talk about your thoughts on what julian assange has done with the information that he has released via wikileaks .

    >> so, i think that the underlying principles of the wikileaks organizations are principles in line with most american ideals, principles of open government . at least from an abstract 30,000 foot perspective, i think the actions at wikileaks are very much in line with the principles of the american people .

    >> david house, thank you very much for being with us today. i appreciate it.

    >> thank you, john.

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