The US condemns human rights abuses abroad yet appears to be allowing the psychological torture of Bradley Manning
Earlier this week, the soldier accused of leaking thousands of confidential documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, was handed an additional 22 charges as part of his ongoing court martial process. The 23-year-old, who has been in solitary confinement for more than seven months, stands accused of computer fraud, theft of public records and willfully communicating classified information to a person not entitled to receive it. He now also finds himself faced with a rare charge known as “aiding the enemy” – a capital offence for which he could face the death penalty.
The revelation will no doubt have come as a blow to Manning, although given his ongoing treatment it is likely he already feared the worst. Made to endure strict conditions under a prevention of injury order against the advice of military psychiatrists, he is treated like no other prisoner at the 250-capacity Quantico Brig detention facility in Virginia. Despite that he is yet to be convicted of any crime, for the past 218 consecutive days he has been made to live in a cell 6ft wide and 12ft long, without contact with any other detainees. He is not allowed to exercise or have personal effects in his cell, and for the one hour each day he is allowed free from his windowless cell he is taken to an empty room where he is allowed to walk, but not run.
One of the few people to have visited Manning, David House, spoke yesterday of how he had witnessed his friend go from a “bright-eyed intelligent young man” to someone who at times has appeared “catatonic” with “very high difficulty carrying on day to day conversation”. House drew similarities with the case of Bobby Dellelo, an American prisoner who developed psychosis after a lengthy period in solitary confinement conditions similar to Manning’s. “For me this has been like watching a really good friend succumb to an illness or something,” he said. “I think that Bradley Manning is being punished this way because the US government wants him to crack ahead of his trial.”
While there has been widespread and well publicised condemnation of issues surrounding Manning’s detainment, his conditions have failed to improve. In fact, things may have got worse, not better, for the Oklahoma-born soldier who is incidentally entitled to UK citizenship through his Welsh mother. Just two days ago, for instance, only 24 hours after having been told he now faces a capital charge, Manning was made tostrip naked in his cell for no apparent reason. According to David Coombs, Manning’s lawyer, the soldier was then left without clothes for seven hours. When the wake-up call sounded for the detainees at 5am, in an act of forced humiliation, Manning was made to stand naked at the front of his cell.
The incident, described as “inexcusable and without justification” by Coombs, is symbolic of the entire twisted saga: a gross injustice on a nauseating scale. We must bear in mind, of course, that Manning allegedly leaked military files because he, according to unverified internet chat logs, saw wrongdoing and had no other course of action because his superiors told him they “didn’t want to hear any of it”. He did not want to be complicit in war crimes, and felt that by leaking the files he could prompt “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms”.
In recent days and weeks the US government has condemned human rights abuses andrepression in almost every country across the Middle East – yet at a prison within its own borders it sanctions the persecution, alleged psychological torture and debasement of a young soldier who appears to have made a principled choice in the name of progress.
“Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal,” said Barack Obama in 2008. But the stench of his hypocrisy is no longer bearable. It is time, now more than ever, that Bradley Manning received the justice he so clearly deserves.