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On his blog, Manning’s lawyer David Coombs reports that his client’s request to have the Prevention of Injury order withdrawn was refused on Wednesday: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