Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bradley Manning: WikiLeaker, Part 3

Manning's Imprisonment


Attorney David Coombs

From July 2010 to April 2011, Manning was held at the Marine brig in Quantico while awaiting trial for the initial charges that had been brought against him. In July, Manning was put on Prevention of Injury Watch. He had previously been on suicide watch, but was removed. Since then, he has been switched between the two several times; His lawyer, David Coombs, filed an Article 138 Complaint according to "alleging extended suicide risk/watch assignment is an abuse of the Brig Commander's discretion."

Coombs keeps a blog and has blogged about his client's treatment in the cell. He detailed some of the treatment that Manning was undergoing. Every weekday morning at 5 a.m., Manning is woken; on weekends, he is allowed to sleep in until 7 a.m. Under the rules of this particular facility, Manning must remain awake until 8 p.m.; naps are not permitted. He is in the cell for 23 out of 24 hours a day.

Though he can have access to as many as 15 books or magazines, which all must be approved and sent through the publisher — not from friends or well-wishers — he is only allowed one book at a time. So far he has requested a series of political books, philosophy books, and historical nonfiction. Among the list printed by Decision Points by George W. Bush, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

Television is limited to one to three hours a day during the week and three to six on the weekends. Manning ends each uneventful day with a two-and-a-half hour correspondence time: He is allowed to write letters and can take a 15-minute shower during this time.

He is not allowed to do some of the usual things that people in prison are often allowed to do: sit-ups and push-ups, for instance, are forbidden. The only hour he spends outside his cell is spent exercising.

Coombs told the Daily Beast that Manning's treatment—particularly considering he had not been to trial—was "unlawful pretrial punishment."

Col. Daniel J. Choike
Col. Daniel J. Choike

In March 2011, Manning wrote a letter to Col. Daniel J. Choike, protesting his treatment, stating that he should no longer be in maximum custody, and that recurring classifications of him as needing to be under suicide watch was improper”

"The decision to retain my classification as a MAX Custody detainee and to retain me under POI Status after 27 August 2010 was improper."

He also detailed further treatment. "I was stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness."

Manning turned 23 in jail.

At the core of the debate over his treatment wasn't whether he was being brutally tortured, or hurt in a physical way—he wasn't—but whether long term solitary confinement was itself a form of cruelty or torture. An article in The New Yorker, "Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?” reports on a series of criminals who had been in isolation for years—10 or more in some cases. In most of those instances, they literally began to lose their minds.

A Pentagon spokesperson, Col. Dave Lapan, denied that Manning was being treated any more harshly than any other maximum custody inmate: "Manning is in a standard single-person cell and gets exercise, recreation, access to newspapers and visitors."

Robert M. Gates
Robert M. Gates

When the conditions of Manning's imprisonment became public, organizations like Amnesty International got involved. Susan Lee, the Program Director for the human rights organization, wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, reading in part: "The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement—which evidence suggests can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of concentration—may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defence and thus his right to a fair trial."

As reports got out about his treatment and how he was faring—articles with headlines like "Bradley Manning's health deteriorating in jail, supporters say," began appearing with more frequency around December—people literally took to the streets. The publicity over Manning's treatment led to the formation of the Bradley Manning Support Network. His supporters include documentary left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore, as well as former members of the military.


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