What’s happened to the United States of America?
For all its foreign policy lapses, the United States has long stood as a beacon of individual freedom. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights constrain government action against individuals to a degree unimagined elsewhere in the world. Even the most criticized parts of the Bill of Rights, like the Second Amendment guarantee of the right ro bear arms, are, in William O. Douglas’s felicitous phrase, “designed to take the government off the backs of people.”
It is commonplace to observe that the September 11 attacks undermined those constraints.
In the run-up to Christmas, Glenn Greenwald, Salon’s tenacious legal affairs reporter, produced a series of stunning posts about the US military’s inhumane treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of passing a massive diplomatic cable trove to Wikileaks currently detained in solitary confinement in a two-meter by three-meter cell.
Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
Remember, Manning hasn’t been convicted of anything. He is merely in pre-trial detention. A blog post by Lt. Col. David Coombs, Manning’s lawyer, fleshes out the picture:
Under the rules for the confinement facility, he is not allowed to sleep at anytime between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards….
PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day.
The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.
He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow.
He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.
He does receive one hour of “exercise” outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.
When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning.
Find Greenwald’s initial post on Manning’s treatment here. A later post theorizes that the military is trying to break Manning down to obtain evidence of collusion with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Despite florid rhetoric directed against Assange (including repeated nonsensical demands he be charged with treason, a crime of which no non-citizen can be guilty), there is no credible basis for a charge against him.