Stripped naked every night: Bradley Manning speaks out

US soldier arrested on suspicion of releasing files to WikiLeaks says he is suffering unlawful punishment.

US soldier arrested on suspicion of releasing files to WikiLeaks says he is suffering punitive, unlawful treatment.

Bradley Manning, the US soldier being held in military prison on suspicion of having released state secrets to WikiLeaks, has spoken out about the conditions he is enduring at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. In an 11-page legal letter released by his lawyer, David Coombs, Manning describes what he claims is punitive and unlawful treatment.

He describes being placed on suicide watch for three days from 18 January:

I was stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness.

He also talks about the ongoing practice of being stripped naked every night and made to stand nude for parade:

The guard told me to stand at parade rest, with my hands behind my back and my legs spaced shoulder-width apart. I stood at parade rest for about three minutes . . . The [brig supervisor] and the other guards walked past my cell. He looked at me, paused for a moment, then continued to the next cell. I was incredibly embarrassed at having all these people stare at me naked.

The legal letter, addressed to the US military authorities, was drawn up in response to the recent decision to keep Manning on a restriction order called Prevention of Injury (PoI). This means that he is kept in his cell alone for 23 hours a day and checked every five minutes by guards. This is despite the fact that none of his psychological evaluations has suggested he has suicidal tendencies or any inclination to harm himself.

Observation records consistently describe Manning as "respectful, courteous and well spoken".

Time magazine quotes a Marine Corps spokesman, First Lieutenant Brian Villiard, saying that officials made an "event-driven" decision to order Manning's night-time nudity. He declined to provide details, citing Manning's privacy.

Earlier this month, my colleague Sophie Elmhirst interviewed David House, the only person to visit Manning in prison apart from his lawyer, who gave some insight into the harsh conditions he faces:

I can't really describe how bizarre it is to see a 110-pound, five-foot-three individual done up in chains from his hands to his feet, connected at the waist, so he can't really move.

House also pointed out that officials' claim that Manning is held in the same conditions as other "maximum-custody" prisoners is meaningless, as he is the only maximum-custody detainee at Quantico.

The UN is launching an inquiry into whether the conditions amount to torture.

Bradley Manning.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Where Labour has no chance, hold your nose and vote Lib Dem

May's gamble, MacKenzie's obsession and Wisden obituaries - Peter Wilby's First Thoughts.

In 2007 Gordon Brown allowed rumours to circulate that he would call an early general election for the spring of 2008. When he failed to do so, he was considered a coward and a ditherer and never recovered. Theresa May has tried a different strategy. After firmly denying that she would call an early election and killing off speculation about one, she suddenly announced an election after all. Will this work better for her than the opposite worked for Brown?

The Prime Minister risks being seen as a liar and an opportunist. Her demand for “unity” at Westminster is alarming, because it suggests that there is no role for opposition parties on the most important issue of the day. If Labour and the Lib Dems are smart enough to co-operate sufficiently to rally the country against what looks like an attempt to instal an authoritarian, right-wing Tory regime, May, even if she wins the election, could find herself weakened, not strengthened. I never thought I would write this but, in constituencies where Labour has no chance, its supporters should hold their noses and vote Lib Dem.

Taken for granted

I wonder if May, before she took her decision, looked at the precedents of prime ministers who called unnecessary elections when they already had comfortable parliamentary majorities. In 1974, after three and a half years in office, Edward Heath, with a Tory majority of 30, called a “Who runs Britain?” election during a prolonged dispute with the miners. He lost. In 1923, Stanley Baldwin, a new Tory leader sitting on a majority of 75 obtained by his predecessor just a year earlier, called an election because he wished to introduce tariffs, an issue strikingly similar to the one raised by Brexit. He also lost. The lesson, I think (and hope), is that prime ministers take the electorate for granted at their peril.

China’s long game

Commentators compare the crisis ­involving North Korea and the US with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. It doesn’t feel that way to me. For several days that year, nuclear war seemed, to my 17-year-old mind, all but inevitable. I went to the cinema one afternoon and felt surprise when I emerged three hours later to find the world – or, at least, the city of Leicester – going about its business as normal. Two nuclear powers were in direct confrontation. The US threatened to invade communist Cuba to remove Soviet missiles and blockaded the island to prevent deliveries of more weapons. Soviet ships sailed towards the US navy. It wasn’t easy to imagine a compromise, or who would broker one. Nobody doubted that the two sides’ weapons would work. The Soviet Union had carried out nearly 200 nuclear tests. North Korea has claimed just five.

For all the talk of intercontinental missiles, North Korea at present isn’t a credible threat to anybody except possibly its neighbours, and certainly not to the US or Britain. It is in no sense a geopolitical or economic rival to the US. Donald Trump, who, like everybody else, finds the Middle East infernally complicated, is looking for an easy, short-term victory. The Chinese will probably arrange one for him. With 3,500 years of civilisation behind them, they are accustomed to playing the long game.

Mussel pains

Whenever I read Kelvin MacKenzie’s columns in the Sun, I find him complaining about the size of mussels served by the Loch Fyne chain, a subject on which he happens to be right, though one wonders why he doesn’t just order something else. Otherwise, he writes badly and unfunnily, often aiming abuse at vulnerable people such as benefit claimants. It’s a new departure, however, to insult someone because they were on the receiving end of what MacKenzie calls “a nasty right-hander”, apparently unprovoked, in a Liverpool nightclub. He called the victim, the Everton and England footballer Ross Barkley, who has a Nigerian grandfather, “one of our dimmest footballers” and likened him to “a gorilla at the zoo”.
The paper has suspended MacKenzie, a former Sun editor, and Merseyside Police is investigating him for racism, though he claims he didn’t know of Barkley’s ancestry.

Several commentators express amazement that Sun editors allowed such tripe to be published. It was not, I think, a mistake. Britain has no equivalent of America’s successful alt-right Breitbart website, disruptively flinging insults at all and sundry and testing the boundaries of what it calls “political correctness”, because our alt right is already established in the Sun, Express and Mail. To defend their position, those papers will continue to be as nasty as it takes.

Over and out

Easter is the time to read the cricket annual Wisden and, as usual, I turn first to the obituaries. Unlike newspaper obituaries, they record failures as well as successes – those who managed just a few undistinguished performances in first-class cricket and, most poignantly, some who promised much but died early. We learn of a 22-year-old Indian who, during demonstrations against the alleged molestation of a schoolgirl, was shot dead by police and whose grieving mother (invoking the name of one of India’s greatest batsmen) cried, “Bring my Gavaskar back!” In England, two young men drowned, having played one first-class match each, and a 22-year-old Sussex fast bowler, described as “roguish” and “enormously popular”, fell off a roof while celebrating New Year with friends in Scotland. In South Africa, a young batsman was among five municipal employees killed when their truck crashed; the local mayor fled the funeral as his workmates “chanted menacingly” about unpaid wages.

Among the better-known deaths is that of Martin Crowe, probably New Zealand’s best batsman. In a Test match, he once got out on 299 and reckoned the near-miss contributed to the cancer that killed him at 53. “It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh,” he said. Cricket can do that kind of thing to you. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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