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The Shameful Treatment Of Bradley Manning

As James Joyner noted yesterday, Pfc. Bradley Manning, currently being held in the brig on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, was forced to spend most of two nights this week naked in his cell for reasons that were never made clear. Today,  The New York Times reports that that this will be a permanent condition for Manning for the foreseeable future:

WASHINGTON — Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking government files to WikiLeaks, will be stripped of his clothing every night as a “precautionary measure” to prevent him from injuring himself, an official at the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., said on Friday.

Private Manning will also be required to stand outside his cell naked during a morning inspection, after which his clothing will be returned to him, said a Marine spokesman, First Lt. Brian Villiard.

“Because of recent circumstances, the underwear was taken away from him as a precaution to ensure that he did not injure himself,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “The brig commander has a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the detainees and to make sure that they are able to stand trial.”

Private Manning is a maximum-security detainee under “prevention of injury watch,” a special set of restrictions — a step his supporters, who contend that he is not suicidal, have said is unjustified. He has not been elevated to the more restrictive “suicide watch” conditions.

Lieutenant Villiard said the new rule on clothing, which would continue indefinitely, had been imposed by the brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes. He said that he was not allowed to explain what prompted it “because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.”

David Coombs, Manning’s chief defense lawyer rejected the “mental health” justification outright:

There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning.  This treatment is even more degrading considering that PFC Manning is being monitored — both by direct observation and by video — at all times. The defense was informed by Brig officials that the decision to strip PFC Manning of all his clothing was made without consulting any of the Brig’s mental health providers.

As Coombs went on to say in a phone interview with the Times that if brig officials truly beleived that Manning’s mental health was an issue, then the appropriate response is to get him treatment, not to force him to be naked seven hours a day.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, there really only seems to be one purpose behind what Manning is being subjected to:

Let’s review Manning’s detention over the last nine straight months: 23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view.  Is there anyone who doubts that these measures — and especially this prolonged forced nudity — are punitive and designed to further erode his mental health, physical health and will?  As The Guardian reported last year, forced nudity is almost certainly a breach of the Geneva Conventions; the Conventions do not technically apply to Manning, as he is not a prisoner of war, but they certainly establish the minimal protections to which all detainees — let alone citizens convicted of nothing — are entitled.

Moreover, Greenwald points out, correctly I think, the media seems to be giving the Obama Administration a pass here:

I’ll say this again:  just 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.

Indeed. It’s understandable, to be honest, why the right wouldn’t care all that much about how Private Manning is being treated. If this were happening under a Republican, though, the left would be united in outrage. Now, their silence is telling

Make no mistake about it. I do not consider Bradley Manning a hero in any sense of the word. Even if it were the case that much of the material that Manning stole from military computers should not have been classified, or really wasn’t all that important (and much of it wasn’t in the end), that isn’t a decision that a Private in the Army has a right to make. If the charges against him are true, he violated orders, accessed systems he had no right to access, and stole information that he had no right to take off base. If he’s convicted of these charges, he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. While he’s awaiting trial, though, and even after he’s convicted, he still must be treated humanely and, at present, Manning is receiving worse treatment than a Prisoner Of War would, and the only purpose behind it seems to be to break him psychologically. That’s simply unacceptable.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Steve Plunk says:

    Where’s his legal counsel? Unlike a POW Manning has counsel who should be taking action if mistreatment is going on.

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  2. His legal counsel has been very active in this matter. There is a pending Article 138 motion protesting Manning’s treatment in the brig. This being the military, things apparently move slower than they would in civilian courts

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  3. Boyd says:

    There seem to be huge holes in this story, or maybe it’s just beyond my comprehension and experience. If Manning is, in fact, being treated this way, and it’s not justified, I can’t see how the brig commander would be allowed to continue these actions after they’ve received this wide attention.

    It’s like looking at a Picasso painting. It just makes no sense to me.

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  4. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Bummer.

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  5. anjin-san says:

    What silence from “the left”? This is reprehensible and disgraceful, to say the very least, and needs to be fully investigated. We need accountability.

    This is the slippery slope we got ourselves on. Not too long ago we were hearing a lot of chatter about how “the Constitution is not a suicide pact”. This is what happens when we do not practice our ideals even under the worst of circumstances.

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  6. TG Chicago says:

    anjin-san, do you have examples of the left criticizing this? I only go to a few left-leaning sites, and it’s possible I’ve just missed it, but I’m only seeing Greenwald covering this. If there are other prominent voices on the left talking about this, please let me know. I’d feel much better if there were!

    Greenwald regularly points out how so many on the left expressed outrage at Bush Administration policies regarding the “war on terror”, but now these people excuse and rationalize the same behavior from the Obama Administration. As someone who actually cares about these issues, it saddens me to see how much of the left’s opposition to the Bush Administration policies was clearly based in mere partisanship rather than honest principles.

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  7. just me says:

    I don’t think the problem is so much no blogging outcry from the left-I have seen several left and left leaning posts about the treatment, but more that the left isn’t banging the drum constantly as they would if it was a GOP administration. I think some on the left-especially bloggers have been making posts. The media though seems to be opting out of coverage and at this point Bush can’t be blamed for what has happened.

    The wiki leaks issue may have released some Bush era information, but the arrest and treatment of Manning has all been on the Obama watch. I do wonder why Obama hasn’t been tarred and feathered with this-because there is no doubt in my mind that Bush would have been and it would have been on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS et al as often and as much as possible.

    I think Manning was wrong, and I think he should be convicted, but the pre court martial treatment is over the line and appears designed to humiliate and isolate more than anything else.

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  8. Jack says:

    If we’re going to allow this to continue, then just take him out back and shoot him without the farce of a court marshal. We’re already punishing him, so obviously a trial is not necessary according to those in charge of his treatment.

    How are we better than those dictators we condemn again?

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  9. anjin-san says:

    TG, I spend about zero time on left-leaning blogs. My sense from comments here is there is outrage on the left, and hope that Obama weighs in in an appropriate manner. We need to know how high up knowledge of this went, and if it is part of a systemic problem or an isolated incident. Either way, it is very bad news.

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  10. JKB says:

    Look, when you fall into the hands of the state as a disfavored person, you have to realize that they will use all their “legal” measures to abuse you. You must prepare yourself for the full assault on you dignity by those who arrest and those who operate incarceration facilities. We all need POW survival training unless you plan on bowing when the authorities demand.

    Read 1984, figure out how you can survive Winston’s interrogation and you be in good stead. But don’t think even if you’ll eventually be provided your rights, you won’t be abused by a system that has so many exceptions, that there are few limits, at least in the short term. You can beat the rap but you can’t avoid the ride.

    This is also not a right/left issue or an Obama issue, it is that the “authorities” will use the system to abuse when they desire. And like all bureaucrats, they’ll consider themselves good people even as they purposely abuse. In the end, the honorable man is the one who acts with restraint and appropriately even when there is no chance of being held accountable or even noticed.

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  11. MM says:

    TG: Three semi-prominent left leaning bloggers who have criticized this are Jane Hamsher, Kevin Drum and Scott Lemeiux. These were all from my reader this morning, so I can’t really speak to anyone else who has or hasn’t.

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  12. @Boyd:

    If Manning is, in fact, being treated this way, and it’s not justified,

    “If…it’s not justified”?

    Under what possible scenario could it possible be justified?

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  13. TG Chicago says:

    …the pre court martial treatment is over the line and appears designed to humiliate and isolate more than anything else.

    Actually, I suspect the primary motivation is to coerce a confession from him. My belief is that they consider Manning to be the small fish; they really want to go after Wikileaks. But as it stands, they have little evidence to use against WL. If they turn the screws on Manning, maybe they can get more.

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  14. Boyd says:

    Under what possible scenario could it possible be justified?

    I don’t know, Steven. I’m not so egotistical to think I have all the answers in an area where I have absolutely zero experience.

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  15. anjin-san says:

    > an area where I have absolutely zero experience.

    I don’t have any experience in this area either. But I know the law says innocent until proven guilty and I know I don’t want law enforcement agents acting like thugs. This ain’t rocket science.

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  16. Wiley Stoner says:

    Anyone seen the discovery in this case or do we have a bunch of lawyers barking in the wind? I cannot believe the Obama administration would do anything which would violate human rights. Obama is the command in chief. The buck stops there.

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  17. Wiley Stoner says:

    Charlie Sheen does not mind getting naked why should this man who is probably a traitor to his nation.

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  18. I don’t know, Steven. I’m not so egotistical to think I have all the answers in an area where I have absolutely zero experience.

    This strikes me as a cop out. As anjin-san noted: there is that whole “innocent until proven guilty’ thing, not to mention the constitutional prohibitions against “cruel and unusual punishment.

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  19. anjin-san says:

    Wily… prove that prisoner abuse was directed.from the white house, as it was under bush, and I wll be calling Obama on the carpet. Till then you are just grandstanding, an not doing a very good job of it.uh

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  20. sam says:

    “If this were happening under a Republican, though, the left would be united in outrage. Now, their silence is telling”

    I dunno. I googled ‘manning naked cell’, and there seem to be a number of lefty sites running the story. And Greenwald is no right-winger.

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  21. LaurenceB says:

    Along with the others, I’ll just take a moment register my disagreement with Mataconis’ accusation about “the left”. Finding voices on the left who are in an uproar Manning’s treatment is not hard to do.

    Let me Google that for you

    Mataconis has pulled kind of sly trick here – He has taken Greenwald’s perfectly valid point about Democratic Congressmen and used it to smear “the left”. Very clever, that.

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  22. LaurenceB says:

    Here’s the link.

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  23. I don’t know, Steven. I’m not so egotistical to think I have all the answers in an area where I have absolutely zero experience.

    So were you like born that spinelessly obedient to authority, or did you have to work at it?

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  24. jwest says:

    People on the left have made some mild remarks about Manning’s treatment, but no one is asking the question of why Barack Obama has ordered these methods being referred to as “torture”.

    Will Obama use waterboarding next? Does the treatment of Manning constitute a crime against humanity? Will Obama face arrest by the World Court if he travels outside the country for his next Nobel Prize?

    Bush came under criticism for using aggressive methods with foreign terrorists, but he did shy away from torturing U.S. servicemen. Perhaps this is Obama putting in practice the left’s mindset that the military is hated more than our enemies.

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  25. [...] my friend Doug Mataconis, an attorney and one of the more sane voices on the web, raised questions about the propriety of this treatment. If he’s convicted of these charges, he deserves to be punished to the fullest [...]

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  26. An Interested Party says:

    Perhaps this is Obama putting in practice the left’s mindset that the military is hated more than our enemies.

    We’ve now resorted to cartoon memes, I see…let’s all do a Google search for all those lefties who praised Osama bin Laden to the high heavens (which those lefties don’t even believe in, by the way) whilst they were trashing our military…and let us not forget, this silly quote is coming from someone who chafes when similarly ridiculous generalizations are made about the right…

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  27. Terrye says:

    Greenwald??? Please.. I am so sick of people trying to make themselves look good by pandering to people like this moron. People died because of his actions, he is in the military, he is not a civilian and if he does not like the way they are treating him maybe he should have thought twice about acting like a traitor.

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  28. An Interested Party says:

    People died because of his actions, he is in the military, he is not a civilian and if he does not like the way they are treating him maybe he should have thought twice about acting like a traitor.

    Oh really? So this is the new standard now? Forget rule of law, forget judicial trials…now, the only standard needed is if someone is accussed of doing bad things, then that person gets treated any way the people who are detaining him damn well want to…lovely…

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  29. anjin-san says:

    > Oh really? So this is the new standard now? Forget rule of law, forget judicial trials…now, the only standard needed is if someone is accussed of doing bad things, then that person gets treated any way the people who are detaining him damn well want to…lovely…

    Yep. Welcome to tea party America.

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  30. anjin-san says:

    > why Barack Obama has ordered these methods

    Well, if you had any evidence that Obama had any knowledge of or involvement with this, you might have something there.

    As is is, you are simply doing what you always do. Providing proof of concept on the old adage “talk is cheap”.

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  31. george says:

    Well, if you had any evidence that Obama had any knowledge of or involvement with this, you might have something there.

    Actually, as CiC, Obama is automatically responsible. Initially the argument could be made that he was unaware of the conditions Manning was being held under and the lack of trial. That is no longer the case. It was wrong when people were held for extended periods under Bush in Gitmo, and its wrong now. In this case, silence is consent.

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  32. ptfe says:

    @a-s: Since he’s in charge of the armed forces, and since this is something that’s known to be happening, and since he’s doing nothing to stop it, he is now “involved.” The fact that Obama isn’t GW doesn’t make him less culpable for the known, ongoing criminal behavior of those under his command.

    Had he found out about this days ago (actually, Manning’s bare confinement conditions have been known for months, and his lack of an expedient trial is a problem that’s been ongoing since his original arrest), and had he had Manning’s latest detention conditions re-evaluated (which he should have, based on what the public knows), that may have indicated he wasn’t directly involved in the decisions. But he hasn’t, so Obama is once again boldly embracing change his predecessor’s nonchalance about the law.

    It’s indefensible.

    People on the left have made some mild remarks about Manning’s treatment, but no one is asking the question of why Barack Obama has ordered these methods being referred to as “torture”.

    Then there’s this. Which is just jwest shooting his mouth off about things he doesn’t want to look up.

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  33. Merrill says:

    If Bradley Manning is indeed in danger of committing suicide as his jailor’s contend, this is a clear sign that he is being mentally tortured. CLEAR. UNAMBIGUOUS. TORTURE. No mattter how the US Military wants to spin this travesty they are perpetrating, they are alienating hundreds of thousands of Americans and citizens around the world who DO consider Bradley Manning a hero. We are not naive anymore. We already saw what depravity passes for Military order in Abu Ghraib prison. This BS that he leaked stuff that endangered the troops….give me a break. The troops have more to worry about from their own selves. Just look at this! What happened to “innocent before proven guilty?” I hope this is the straw that breaks the back of the disgusting thing they call the Military Justice System. The military need to be under the thumb of civilain control, not the other way around. Only depraved and damaged people could think humiliating a hero is ever justified.

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  34. Anderson says:

    prove that prisoner abuse was directed.from the white house, as it was under bush, and I wll be calling Obama on the carpet

    Of course he knows about it. He just doesn’t care. Like with Bagram. Like with violations of the War Crimes Act. Like with “state secrets.”

    All of that is just silly liberal whinging that Obama thinks would roil the independents against him and hinder his policy initiatives, not to mention his re-election. Principles don’t matter, only programs.

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  35. ElvenPhoenix says:

    Obviously, Obama sees nothing wrong with Manning’s treatment:

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/onmedia/0311/Obama_Pentagon_says_Manning_confinement_is_appropriate.html?showall

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  36. [...] of the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. There have been multiple criticisms of how Manning is being treated in his detention with even the U.N. examining the case. The key thing to remember here is that [...]

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