The world recently discovered that 22 year old, alleged Wikileaker Bradley Manning was subject to inhumane and degrading conditions while being held in military prison. Were his wardens fired? No, the head on the chopping block is State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who denounced Manning's treatment in an off-the-cuff remark on a college campus.
Obama's acquiescence over the status of Guantanamo Bay has brought attention back to the detention facility and the controversial information extraction and confinement practices which are carried out behind its walls. While most Americans probably think that these harsh procedures are reserved for violent "enemy combatants," they would be surprised to learn that some of the same techniques are used on American citizens on U.S. soil.
But that is precisely what seems to be happening to Manning, the Army Private accused of supplying WikiLeaks with sensitive information.
Manning is currently being held at the Marines base in Quantico, Virginia. From the beginning of his detention, he has been kept in mind-numbing solitary confinement for 23 hours each day. His conditions are best described by Salon's Glenn Greenwald. While in his cell, he is not permitted to exercise and for several months, he was denied any clothing or bedding while sleeping. These conditions appear unduly punitive for a person who has not been convicted of a violent crime, nor indeed of any crime. However, military officials have maintained that these measures are necessary due to the "particular circumstances as a maximum security detainee" and are in line with all U.S. laws and Department of Defense regulations.
This severe treatment may be defended by numerous military officials, but solitary confinement has come under attack from human rights activists and psychologists who have studied its scarring and appalling effects. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law explains that "solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture." In the seminal Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a group of human rights NGOs including Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Center for Torture Victims, filed an amicus brief which discussed the devastating impacts of solitary confinement. Their brief reviewed a history of solitary confinement dating back to the 18th century and concluded "there is not a single published study of solitary or Supermax-like confinement in which non-voluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days, where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will, that failed to result in negative psychological effects."
Similar treatment was used on Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar who was arrested while studying at Brandeis University on suspicion of being an al Qaeda sleeper agent. In the case of Al-Marri v. Spagone, an amicus brief filed by the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice argued that:
al-Marri suffers from many of the predictable psychological effects of his grim and desolate confinement. In March 2008, a prominent expert in the psychological effects of solitary confinement conducted an evaluation of al-Marri. The expert noted that the conditions under which al-Marri had been confined for years were more onerous than those endured by anyone he had observed other than 'individuals who were incarcerated brutally in some third-world countries.'
It is clear that Manning is one of the latest victims of an abusive pattern of detention practices. This treatment has been so egregious that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, whose father was a prisoner of war, called the handling of Manning "ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid." Crowley quickly lost his job for speaking the truth. His fate was sealed when President Obama downplayed the treatment of Manning a few days later.
Conservative commenter Andrew Sullivan has written that "By firing P.J. Crowley for the offense of protesting against the sadistic military treatment of Bradley Manning, the president has now put his personal weight behind prisoner abuse. The man who once said that forced nudity was a form of torture, now takes the word of those enforcing it.' Now the fate of Private Manning, his mental fitness and psychological well being, are squarely in the President's hands, as is the fate of 172 Guantanamo detainees who are still awaiting their day in court as the ten year anniversary of 9-11 approaches.