Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a "Maximum Custody Detainee," the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.This is especially distressing since the consensus in the psychological world is that long-term solitary confinement is indeed a potent form of torture.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every
day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including
even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on
It's one thing to impose such punitive, barbaric measures on convicts who have proven to be violent when around other prisoners; at the Supermax in Florence, inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes and who pose a threat to prison order and the safety of others are subjected to worse treatment than what Manning experiences. But it's another thing entirely to impose such
conditions on individuals, like Manning, who have been convicted of nothing and have never demonstrated an iota of physical threat or disorder.
Daniel Ellsberg, in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now last week, said:
The fact is that what Lamo reports Manning is saying has a very familiar and persuasive ring to me. He reports Manning as having said that what he had read and what he was passing on were horrible -- evidence of horrible machinations by the US backdoor dealings throughout the Middle East and, in many cases, as he put it, almost crimes. And let me guess that -- he’s not a lawyer, but I'll guess that what looked to him like crimes are crimes, that he was
putting out. We know that he put out, or at least it's very plausible that he put out, the videos that he claimed to Lamo. And that's enough to go on to get them interested in pursuing both him and the other.And so, what it comes
down, to me, is -- and I say throwing caution to the winds here -- is that what I've heard so far of Assange and Manning -- and I haven't met either of them --
is that they are two new heroes of mine.
In the film "District 9," a scandal erupts over South Africa's mistreatment of a community of oppressed extraterrestrials. The man who first discovers the truth is made the target of a nationwide manhunt, accused of having sex with aliens and said to be contagious. Later, a young contractor who exposes said truths to the public is arrested and thrown into prison. While that film is known for its sci-fi backdrop, the portrayal of justice and power it provides is eerily contemporary. Julian Assange is accused of sex without a condom, and at least one of his accusers suspected to have CIA ties.
Bradley Manning, on the other hand, is awaiting court-martial and faces up to 52 years in prison. As an enlisted soldier, he will be tried not by a jury of his peers, but by a jury of officers, thereby giving him a far slimmer chance of receiving a fair trial.
It is chilling to consider that, if we in America had reacted to pro-accountability leaks in the past the way we do today, Daniel Ellsberg would likely be in prison. So might those who reported the scandal at Abu Ghraib. Do we want to be the country that promises free-speech, except for those who speak uncomfortable truths? Do we truly want to be the Land of the Free (with Caveats)? Do we want to send the message that those who reveal high-level malfeasance are not heroes to be lauded, but criminals to be hunted down and punished?
For my country's sake, and the sake of all who would speak truth to power, I hope not.