Bradley Manning An "Ethical Giant"
Manning Speaks About His Conditions
By David House
December 24, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army private accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks, has been held in the brig at Quantico Marine Corp Base for five months in inhumane conditions, with severe restrictions on his ability to exercise, communicate, or even sleep. Manning has not been convicted of any crime. Nor is there a date certain for any court hearing.
The conditions of Bradley Manning’s confinement became a top issue in the press last week as bloggers traded blows with US officials over allegations that Manning endures inhumane treatment at the Quantico, VA detainment facility. In the midst of this rush by the Defense Department to contextualize Manning’s confinement, I traveled to see the man himself at the Marine Corps detainment facility in Quantico, VA.
In my visit to see Bradley at the Quantico brig, it became clear that the Pentagon’s public spin from last week sharply contradicts the reality of Bradley Manning’s detainment. In his five months of detention, it has become obvious to me that Manning’s physical and mental well-being are deteriorating. What Manning needs, and what his attorney has already urged, is to have the unnecessary “Prevention of Injury” order lifted that severely restricts his ability to exercise, communicate, and sleep.
My Visits to Manning in Quantico
I am one of the few people allowed to visit Bradley Manning while he is detained in the Quantico brig.
Manning is held in “maximum custody,” the military’s most severe detention policy. Manning is also confined under a longstanding Prevention of Injury (POI) order which limits his social contact, news consumption, ability to exercise, and that places restrictions on his ability to sleep.
Manning has been living under the solitary restrictions of POI for five months despite being cleared by a military psychologist earlier this year, and despite repeated calls from his attorney David Coombs to lift the severely restrictive and isolating order. POI orders are short-term restrictions that are typically implemented when a detainee changes confinement facilities and these orders are lifted after the detainee passes psychological evaluation.
Our conversations, which take place in the presence of marines and electronic monitoring equipment, typically revolve around topics in physics, computer science, and philosophy; he recently mentioned that he hopes to one day make use of the GI Bill towards earning a graduate degree in Physics and a bachelors in Political Science. He rarely if ever talks about his conditions in the brig, and it is not unusual for him to shy away from questions about his well-being by changing the subject entirely.
When I arrived at the brig on December 18th I found him to be much more open to lines of inquiry regarding his circumstances, and in a two and a half hour conversation I learned new details about his life in confinement.
Manning’s Conditions Exposed, Pentagon Goes on Defense
The media skirmishes began on December 15th when Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com published an article stating that Manning’s pretrial confinement conditions are equivalent to solitary confinement. Greenwald based his assertions partially upon written and verbal statements made by Quantico brig official Brian Villiard. The Quantico information office reacted the next day by publishing a statement on Greenwald’s blog entitled “Safety and Security = Job #1 at the Brig” which defended the nature of Manning’s “maximum custody” detainment and distanced his conditions from those of solitary confinement.
The statement reads in part:
The Quantico information office also posted a text transcript of Greenwald’s interview with Villiard as purported evidence that Greenwald had misrepresented the facts of Manning’s confinement; this transcript includes Villiard’s official statement regarding Manning’s confinement with particular focus paid to details surrounding Manning’s access to news, adequate exercise, and proper bedding:
This transcript and the accompanying statement by the Quantico information office were quickly cited in the press as a riposte to Greenwald’s original piece on the conditions of Manning’s confinement.
The Guardian contacted me for a comment about Bradley’s conditions on December 16th. Apart from his attorney, David Coombs, I am the only person that regularly visits Brad in the brig. I gave an interview to the Guardian in which I made my concerns for Bradley’s health known, based on my observations of a decline in his mental well-being and noticeable changes in his physical health due to a complete lack of exercise (more on that later).
The Guardian article ran the following morning, and in the interim the media coverage of the issue intensified. Early Friday, in a likely reaction to mounting press attention, Pentagon spokesperson Col. David Lapan issued a statement that downplayed the isolation aspect of Manning’s confinement while harping on four circumstances that allegedly separate Manning’s detainment from a situation consistent with solitary confinement.
From the Washington Post:
Manning Detained Beyond “Maximum Custody”
The unusual nature of a longstanding POI order and the consequences it carries (such as 23-hour per day cell confinement with no substantive exercise) has led Manning’s lawyer David Coombs to make an uncharacteristic appeal in the press, to halt what he says is punitive pretrial treatment of his client. Coombs appears in an interview with the Daily Beast, released shortly after (and possibly in response to) Lapan’s statement on Friday:
Yes, that was Bradley Manning’s lawyer echoing the concerns of Glenn Greenwald: severe, punitive, solitary treatment under the auspices of protecting Bradley.
Villiard still had one final point to make late last Friday: appearing in the same article as Coombs, Villiard defends Manning’s compulsory alternative bedding, brought about as a condition of the POI, in a statement to the Daily Beast:
As a final act of public education, attorney David Coombs published a facts-only account of Manning’s detention on his blog last Saturday. The article details a typical day for the Private, and lists the specific conditions that Manning must live under as part of the punitive POI order:
This report from Coombs is consistent on each count with the investigative findings of Glenn Greenwald in the December 15 Salon article that broke this story. But there is one potential error: attorney David Coombs’ claim that Manning’s exercise regimen consists of walking circles in an empty room seems to be inconsistent with the Quantico information office’s December 16 statement cited above, which claims that Manning is allowed “outside physical activity without restraint”, and also appears to be inconsistent with Villiard’s December 14 statement that calisthenics, basketball, and running may constitute part of Manning’s exercise. This is likely just some mistake on the part of the brig and Villiard, right?
The only statements I can find from the Department of Defense about this whole issue reinforce the “maximum custody” trope without addressing the administrative solitary confinement that results from the longstanding POI order. Either Brian Villiard, Col. David Lapan, and the Quantico Information Office have somehow never heard of Manning’s POI order, which implies incompetence, or they are skirting around it in the media in order to avoid admitting Manning’s true conditions of confinement, which implies deception. Let’s find out which it is.
Manning’s Reality vs. Pentagon’s Spin
My meeting with Bradley this weekend provided new information to refute the Pentagon’s assertions this week about Bradley’s detention, and that show the Prevention of Injury (POI) order under which Bradley is held and restricted is unnecessary and should be removed.
1 – Ability to View Current Events & Access to Newspapers
Manning related to me on December 18 2010 that he is not allowed to view international news during his television period. He mentioned that he might theoretically be able to view local news, but his television period is typically from 7pm – 8pm such that no local news is playing in the Quantico, VA area.
Manning told me explicitly on December 18 2010 that he is not, nor has he ever been, allowed newspapers while in confinement. When I said “The Pentagon has stated that you are allowed newspapers”, his immediate reaction was surprised laughter.
Villiard skirts the issue of news censorship by playing word games with “available” channels. Two days later Greenwald posts this update to his December 15 2010 Salon article: “I was contacted by Lt. Villiard … he claims that Manning is not restricted from accessing news or current events during the prescribed time he is permitted to watch television.” Although his word games are little more than evasive sophistry, the claim from Villiard to Greenwald that Manning is not denied access to news or current events directly contradicts what Manning clearly related during our December 18 2010 meeting.
Lapan’s December 17 2010 statement encourages the reader that Manning’s conditions are no different than those of anyone else held in maximum custody. In reality, Manning has an extra set of restrictions imposed upon his confinement — the longstanding POI order — that by definition requires Manning to be denied basic exercise and isolated for 23 hours per day. Either Lapan is unaware of the harsh conditions imposed on Manning by a POI, or he is (mistakenly or not) conflating “maximum custody restrictions” with “POI restrictions”, or he is being deceptive to the media and the public about the conditions of Manning’s confinement. Not a lot of good options here.
Lapan’s December 17 2010 statement concludes by claiming outright that Manning has access to newspapers. This contradicts Manning’s explicit statement during our December 18 2010 meeting that he has not, nor has he ever been, allowed newspapers during his time in confinement.
2 – Ability to Engage in Outdoor Recreation
Manning stated to me on December 18 2010 that he has not been outside or into the brig yard for either recreation nor exercise in four full weeks. He related that visits to the outdoors have been infrequent and sporadic for the past several months.
The statement sent by Villiard to Glenn Greenwald on December 14 2010 and later posted to Salon by the Quantico information office implies that Manning has the option to spend time outdoors on days with fair weather. Manning’s assertion in our December 18 2010 meeting that outdoor trips over the last several months have been rare leads me to believe that the claim “Depending on the weather, his recreation time may be spent indoors or outdoors” directly contradicts the reality of Manning’s situation as expressed in his own words.
The statement released by the Quantico information office stating that detainees receive “outside physical activity without restraint” is inconsistent with reports from Manning that outside recreation is sporadic and rare.
3 – Ability to Exercise
Manning related to me on December 18 2010 that he does not receive any substantive exercise and cannot perform even basic exercises in his cell. When told of the Pentagon’s statement that he did indeed receive exercise, Manning’s reply was that he is able to exercise insofar as walking in chains is a form of exercise.
As Manning stated during our December 18 2010 meeting and as David Coombs confirms in notes on his blog, Manning’s only exercise is walking in an empty room for an hour each day. It is unknown whether Manning’s reference to chains during my meeting with him was meant to imply that he is in chains during his period of circle-walking exercise, or if he was instead referring to the action of wearing chains while being escorted through the halls of the brig. Regardless, it is safe to say that Villiard’s claim of “calisthenics, running, basketball” is every bit as untrue as Lapan’s claim that Manning gets exercise at all — insofar as walking in circles, potentially chained, is exercise.
4 – Conditions of Bedding
Manning related to me on December 19 2010 that his blankets are similar in weight and heft to lead aprons used in X-ray laboratories, and similar in texture to coarse and stiff carpet. He stated explicitly that the blankets are not soft in the least and expressed concern that he had to lie very still at night to avoid receiving carpet burns. The problem of carpet burns was exacerbated, he related, by the stipulation that he must sleep only in his boxer shorts as part of the longstanding POI order. Manning also stated on December 19 2010 that hallway-mounted lights shine through his window at night. This constant illumination is consistent with reports from attorney David Coombs’ blog that marines must visually inspect Manning as he sleeps.
It is apparent from Manning’s description of his bedding and his explicit concern about their propensity to cause carpet burn that Brian Villiard’s statement attesting to the comfort of the bedding is without basis.
It would be useful to determine how many times per night Manning is rousted from sleep as a result of either the blankets, the lights, or the guards. Such an analysis of his sleeping conditions might give insight into his mental state determined by his overall ability to maintain rest in conditions of isolation.
Manning’s POI Order Should Be Lifted Immediately
Based on Bradley Manning’s description of his detention to myself and to his attorney, there are clear, unavoidable contradictions with the Pentagon’s public statements about Manning. Because of the longstanding POI order, Manning is subjected to restrictions far beyond the minimum right of other “maximum custody” prisoners held in the same brig.
Since his arrest Bradley Manning has been neither a threat to himself nor others. Over the course of my visits to see Bradley in Quantico, it’s become increasingly clear that the severe, inhumane conditions of his detention are wearing on Manning. The extraordinary restrictions of Manning’s basic rights to sleep, exercise, and communicate under the Prevention of Injury order are unnecessary and should be lifted immediately.
Please add your name to my letter urging the Quantico Brig Commanding Officer to lift Bradley Manning’s unnecessary POI order. I’ll deliver your signature to the Quantico Brig when I visit Bradley next month.
* Special note: No notepads, pens, phones, tape recorders, or other useful documentation devices are allowed into the brig’s visitation rooms. For this reason the key points of my conversations with Manning, his explicit replies to questions regarding confinement, were temporarily stored mentally through repetition. I am fortunate that many of his replies could be summed up in very few words. When visiting hours conclude I create a voice memo with a brain-dump of the meeting that just took place. I’ll try to get the relevant recordings online in the next few days. Aside from that, I encourage any curious parties to file an FOIA request for the government-curated audio tapes created in brig visitation room #2 on December 18 and December 19 2010 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm.