Torturing Bradley Manning

Nicole Colson reports on the humiliations to which accused whistleblower Bradley Manning is being subjected while in military custody--and the new charges he faces.

Protesters in Virginia rally to defend Bradley ManningProtesters in Virginia rally to defend Bradley Manning

BRADLEY MANNING, the 23-year-old Army soldier accused of leaking information to the muckraking Web site WikiLeaks, is facing a slew of new charges from the government--and the repressive conditions he's being kept in are growing more severe.

On March 2, the Army announced it had filed 22 additional charges against Manning. The most serious is "aiding the enemy," an offense that carries a potential death sentence. Other charges include wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it will be accessed by the enemy, and violating Army regulations on information security.

In a blog posting, Manning's attorney David Coombs wrote that the charges come at the recommendation of Manning's commander, and it is unclear whether he will actually face all of them:

The decision to prefer charges is an individual one by Pfc. Manning's commander. The nature of the charges and the number of specifications under each reflects his determination, in consultation with his Staff Judge Advocate's office, of the possible offenses in this case. Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial.

In a detailing of the charges, military prosecutors recommended that Manning be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on the charge of "aiding the enemy." However, the military judge would be able to dismiss the recommendation and impose the death penalty.

What you can do

Manning's supporters--including members of the Bradley Manning Support Network, Veterans for Peace, Courage to Resist, CodePink and others--will rally at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia on March 20 at 2 p.m. to protest his treatment. Courage to Resist is organizing a bus to the event from Washington, D.C.

Visit the Bradley Manning Support Network Web site for information and updates on the case or to sign a petition in support of Manning's release. You can also donate to the Bradley Manning legal defense fund.

"I'm shocked that the military opted to charge Pfc. Bradley Manning today with the capital offense of 'aiding the enemy,'" Jeff Paterson, of the group Courage to Resist, which has supported Manning, told the Washington Post. "While the military is downplaying the fact, the option to execute Bradley has been placed on the table."

Paterson added that "it's beyond ironic that leaked U.S. State Department cables have contributed to revolution and revolt" in the Middle East--"yet an American may be executed, or at best face life in prison, for being the primary whistleblower."

The Pentagon claims that Manning should be charged with aiding the enemy because some of the information he allegedly leaked to WikiLeaks contained the names of civilian informants and others who have cooperated with the U.S. military.

However, even the Pentagon has been forced to quietly admit there have been no deaths associated with the leaked documents. "We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents," Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell told the Washington Post.

If anyone is responsible for putting civilian lives at risk in Afghanistan, it is the U.S. military, not Bradley Manning. A single helicopter strike in early March, for example, mistakenly killed nine Afghan boys, all under the age of 14, as they gathered firewood on a mountainside in Kunar province. Yet those who okayed the air strike will never face a court martial or a day in prison.

In a videotaped apology, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez stated, "We had made a terrible mistake. These incidents are rare."

Except they are not. Last year, documents released by WikiLeaks that Manning is accused of passing showed that the civilian death toll of the Iraq war was higher than previously thought. According to an analysis by the Guardian newspaper and others, the WikiLeaks documents showed that "more than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents...U.S. and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists, but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities."

The information provided to WikiLeaks--including the devastating "Collateral Murder" video and the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs--detail a callous disregard for both Iraqi and Afghan civilian life on the part of U.S. war planners and, often, soldiers--including not only civilian death classified as "collateral damage," but war crimes such as the torture, rape and the murder of civilians.

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MANNING HIMSELF is now experiencing the savage behavior of the Pentagon.

Manning has been in solitary confinement for more than seven months at a Marine brig in Quantico, Va. During that time, he has been subject to ongoing harsh treatment that, according to many experts, would rise to the level of torture under the Geneva Conventions (which Manning is not subject to, as he is not a prisoner of war).

This includes being confined to a 6-by-12-foot cell for 23 hours each day, constantly watched on video cameras, denied physical exercise and articles of clothing and bedding, denied sleep during the day and repeatedly woken by guards throughout the night.

The military claims Manning's treatment is standard for "prevention of injury" watch and that he is treated the same as any other detainee at Quantico--but these punitive measures are clearly designed to break his spirit.

Just 24 hours after being informed that he now faces a potential death sentence, Manning was reportedly forced to strip in his cell, and then left naked for more than seven hours overnight. When it came time for his "morning inspection" at 5 a.m., Manning was forced to stand, naked, outside of his cell and submit to inspection. He has had to undergo this humiliation every day since.

According to lawyer David Coombs, Marine spokesperson 1st Lt. Brian Villiard said "the decision to strip him naked every night is for Pfc. Manning's own protection. Villiard stated that it would be 'inappropriate' to explain what prompted these actions."

Forcing a prisoner to endure such humiliations and then citing "privacy concerns" to refuse to discuss the reason why is the height of hypocrisy. According to Coombs, however, the latest humiliations for Manning may be punishment for a sarcastic statement he made to his jailors.

Coombs noted that on March 2, after Manning had been told that his request to be removed from maximum custody and Prevention of Injury (POI) Watch had been denied by the Quantico commander, Manning "inquired of the brig operations officer what he needed to do in order to be downgraded from Maximum custody and POI." When Manning was then told that there was nothing he could do, according to Coombs:

Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were "absurd" and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.

Without consulting any Brig mental health provider, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes used Pfc. Manning's sarcastic quip as justification to increase the restrictions imposed upon him under the guise of being concerned that Pfc. Manning was a suicide risk. Pfc. Manning was not, however, placed under the designation of Suicide Risk Watch. This is because Suicide Risk Watch would have required a Brig mental health provider's recommendation, which the Brig commander did not have....

While the commander needed the Brig psychiatrist's recommendation to place Pfc. Manning on Suicide Risk Watch, no such recommendation was needed in order to increase his restrictions under POI Watch...

Given these circumstances, the decision to strip Pfc. Manning of his clothing every night for an indefinite period of time is clearly punitive in nature. There is no mental health justification for the decision. There is no basis in logic for this decision.

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THE "LOGIC" is only that the daily humiliation of Manning, on top of his already abusive treatment, is designed to make him more malleable to his jailors and to the government--in the same way that the forced nudity of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was used as a tool of punishment.

That abuse of detainees, of course, was rightly called out as torture and a war crime--but few are currently speaking out on behalf of Manning, who is being persecuted by the Obama administration.

Reports suggest that military officials have spent much of the past seven months attempting to link Manning directly to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an effort to make a case against Assange and WikiLeaks for "conspiracy." Having been unable to find any link between the two, Manning has become even more of a scapegoat for the government.

The treatment of Bradley Manning has one purpose and design: to punish and humiliate the young soldier into giving the government what it wants--whether it's a trumped-up case against WikiLeaks, or his own submission and the breaking of his will.

As Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald wrote:

The treatment of Manning is now so repulsive that it even lies beyond what at least some of the most devoted Obama admirers are willing to defend. For instance, UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman--who last year hailed Barack Obama as, and I quote, "the greatest moral leader of our lifetime"--wrote last night: "The United States Army is so concerned about Bradley Manning's health that it is subjecting him to a regime designed to drive him insane...This is a total disgrace. It shouldn't be happening in this country. You can't be unaware of this, Mr. President. Silence gives consent."

Greenwald also pointed out that last week, spokesperson Geoff Morrell declared in an interview with MSNBC's Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie that the only people concerned about Manning's treatment were "some on the far left, a couple of Web sites in particular, and one of the shows on this network."

As Greenwald noted, that must mean in Morrell's mind that Amnesty International and Manfred Nowak, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, are part of that "far left," since both have expressed concerns about Manning's treatment. A letter Amnesty sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates details the criminal nature of what's happening to Manning:

[T]he restrictions imposed in Pfc. Manning's case appear to be unnecessarily harsh and punitive, in view of the fact that he has no history of violence or disciplinary infractions and that he is a pre-trial detainee not yet convicted of any offense.

The conditions under which Pfc. Manning is held appear to breach the USA's obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that "all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."...

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 defense and thus his right to a fair trial.

Yet while the conditions Manning is being subjected to have been widely reported, few reporters or media outlets have been willing to call out the Obama administration and the military for what amounts to torture of Manning. As Greenwald added:

[J]ust fathom the contrived, shrieking uproar from opportunistic Democratic politicians and their loyalists if it had been George Bush and Dick Cheney--on U.S. soil--subjecting a whistle-blowing member of the U.S. military to these repressive conditions without being convicted of anything, charging him with a capital offense that statutorily carries the death penalty, and then forcing him to remain nude every night and stand naked for inspection outside his cell. Feigning concern over detainee abuse for partisan gain is only slightly less repellent than the treatment to which Manning is being subjected.