Bradley Manning’s lawyer speaks out

David Coombs reports that the soldier’s treatment has just got even worse.

In her piece in this week's magazine on the case of Private Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old American soldier suspected of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Sophie Elmhirst describes the dreadful conditions in which the young man is being held at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia:

Manning is under a Prevention of Injury (PoI) order, which limits his social contact, exercise, sleep and access to external stimuli such as newspapers or television . . . He spends 23 hours a day alone in his cell. The hour he is allowed out, he is taken to an empty room and walks in circles. If he is caught exercising in his cell, he is forced to stop. At night, Manning is stripped to his underwear and has to sleep under blankets that he says give him carpet burn. He is usually woken several times throughout the night by guards. PoI orders are usually issued when prisoners present a risk to themselves or others and are supposed to be temporary. Manning has been under the order since he arrived at the Brig in July.

On his blog, Manning's lawyer David Coombs reports that his client's request to have the Prevention of Injury order withdrawn was refused on Wednesday:

On Wednesday March 2, 2011, PFC Manning was told that his Article 138 complaint requesting that he be removed from maximum custody and Prevention of Injury (PoI) Watch had been denied by the Quantico commander, Colonel Daniel J Choike. Understandably frustrated by this decision after enduring over seven months of unduly harsh confinement conditions, PFC Manning inquired of the Brig operations officer what he needed to do in order to be downgraded from maximum custody and PoI. As even Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell has stated, PFC Manning has been nothing short of "exemplary" as a detainee. Additionally, Brig forensic psychiatrists have consistently maintained that there is no mental health justification for the PoI Watch imposed on PFC Manning. In response to PFC Manning's question, he was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm. PFC Manning then remarked that the PoI restrictions were "absurd" and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.

In a development that one might describe as Kafkaesque, were it not quite so sinister, that remark of Manning's has been used as justification for, as Coombs puts it, "increas[ing] the restrictions imposed upon him under the guise of being concerned that PFC Manning was a suicide risk". Manning is now being stripped naked at night and is not allowed to keep even his underwear on. But, as Coombs points out, Manning is allowed to wear clothes and underwear during the day, "with no apparent concern that he will harm himself during this time period".

The decision to strip Manning completely at night is clearly punitive – indeed, it is, as Andrew Sullivan rightly notes, sadistic: "We all hoped that under Obama, brutal treatment of military prisoners and lies about it would end. In this case, they haven't."

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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