The Pentagon pushed back Friday against news reports that accuse the US military of mistreating the soldier charged with stealing sensitive and classified documents and giving them to the WikiLeaks website, calling the allegations “blatantly false.”
The renewed scrutiny into the treatment of Private First Class Bradley Manning, including whether he is being held in solitary confinement, comes on the heels of recent reports like one that ran Wednesday in Salon.com, charging that “Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhuman, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation.”
Even as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released from jail Thursday to an estate outside of London to await an extradition hearing, critics argue that Manning’s confinement has been largely ignored.
Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, says his organization has not investigated Manning’s detention. “I don’t think we’ve really looked into that,” he says. “I can’t really tell you that we know how he’s being treated based on any assessment.”
Manning was arrested in May and held at a detention center in Kuwait before being transferred to the Quantico Marine Corps base brig in Virginia five months ago. According to the military charge sheet filed on May 29, Manning is accused of having "unauthorized possession of photographs relating to the national defense, to wit: a classified video of a military operation filmed at or near Baghdad ... and did willfully communicate, deliver and transmit the video ... to a person not entitled to receive it." He is also accused of "knowingly exceed[ing[ his authorized access on a secret Internet Protocol Router network computer." He is awaiting trial.
The Pentagon denies that Manning is being held in solitary confinement. True, a Pentagon spokesman says, Manning is being held alone in a cell. “But just being in a cell by yourself doesn’t constitute solitary confinement,” says Col. Dave Lapan.
“He is surrounded by other people” in adjacent cells, Lapan argues, adding that Manning is also able to hear talking and other voices from his cell.
Manning can watch television for one hour per day and read newspapers, military officials say. Lapan added that he is not certain whether Manning is being provided blankets, sheets, or pillows – items that are sometimes denied to prisoners on suicide watch.
In a statement from the Quantico Marine Corps base information office, the military further elaborated on Manning’s treatment as a “maximum custody detainee” – in other words, as a prisoner held in maximum security.
“Pfc. Manning, as well as every other maximum custody detainee, is allotted approximately one hour of television per day,” the statement reads. “He may view any of the available channels. Viewing time may fluctuate slightly depending on the number of detainees being held at the time, but each detainee will be allotted an equal amount.”
The statement, entitled “Safety and Security = Job #1 at the Brig,” and written in response to charges that Manning is being mistreated, asserts that Manning is allowed to converse with other prisoners “as long as the conversation does not interfere with good order and discipline.”
In response to questions about how much time Manning gets outside his cell everyday, marines at Quantico’s prison say he is “allotted one hour of recreation time per day, as is every other maximum custody detainee.”
Depending on the weather, this recreation time may be indoors or outdoors. “Activities may include calisthenics, running, basketball, etc.,” according to the statement.
It also addresses the charge that Manning is being held in cruel conditions – specifically, that he is not allowed to exercise in his room. “No detainees are allowed to exercise in their cell. As a matter of safety, all exercise must be supervised.”
As to whether Manning gets sheets and blankets, the marines at Quantico allowed only that Manning “is issued adequate bedding.”
The statement emphasizes that a “maximum custody detainee” receives some of the same privileges as the general population, including sending and receiving mail and visitations. Manning also gets one hour of television, a “hygiene call, reading and outside physical activity without restraint.”
Maximum security prisoners are under constant supervision due to a “high probability of escape.” This includes “those likely to be dangerous or violent, and those whose escape would cause concern of a threat to life, property, or national security.”
Mr. Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says questions he would have regarding Manning’s treatment is, “Do the lights go out at night? Is he being held in conditions that are conducive to sleeping at night, or does it seem they are trying to deny him that?”
If Manning is denied bedding, or forced to sleep with lights on, or on “a hard bed that is impossible to lie on, then that would suggest that they would be surreptitiously trying to keep him from sleeping,” Malinowski says. “And that is insanity-inducing.”