There are conflicting accounts of exactly how Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower on countless U.S. government crimes, has been illegally punished for 8 months so far, pre-trial. There's no denying that this young man who allegedly sought to make his government's actions known for the public good and did not seek to profit thereby has been denied a speedy trial. The question is to what extent he has already been punished, and even cruelly and unusually punished, without having been convicted of any crime. But the accounts differ less than it at first appears. And there is one sure way to find out the facts.
Let's look first at what Glenn Greenwald reported on December 15th. Greenwald wrote that he had interviewed "several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed." In Greenwald's account, Manning had been a model detainee and had never been on suicide watch, but had been declared from the start a "Maximum Custody Detainee," and had been held from the start in "intensive solitary confinement . . . for 23 out of 24 hours every day . . . he sits completely alone in his cell."
In Greenwald's account, Manning is forbidden from exercising in his cell and is under "constant surveillance." He has, or at least had at this time, no pillow or sheets. And during his one hour out of his cell he is barred from accessing any news (apparently meaning on television or radio) according to some of Greenwald's sources, presumably including David House, a friend of Manning's whom Greenwald cites, but not according to Lt. Villiard. According to Greenwald, "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." Greenwald did not say whether Manning's cell was silent or whether he could hear the voices of other prisoners or guards. He did not say whether the cell had a window or access to daylight. He did say that Manning was being administered regular doses of anti-depressants. I am assuming no one outside the military is able to confirm what drugs Manning has actually been administered or whether they have all been antidepressants, and that Manning himself cannot confirm this. But there is one way to find out.
On December 18th, Manning's lawyer David Coombs wrote about Manning's treatment on his website. Coombs used two terms to describe Manning's detention: "maximum custody" and "Prevention of Injury (POI) watch." Coombs continued:
"His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length. The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet. . . . [H]e 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. He is allowed to watch television [apparently in his cell] during the day. The television stations are limited to the basic local stations. His access to the television ranges from 1 to 3 hours on weekdays to 3 to 6 hours on weekends."
Coombs continued, describing the cell: "He cannot see other inmates from his cell. He can occasionally hear other inmates talk. Due to being a pretrial confinement facility, inmates rarely stay at the facility for any length of time. Currently, there are no other inmates near his cell.
"From 7:00 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., he is given correspondence time. He is given access to a pen and paper. He is allowed to write letters to family, friends, and his attorneys. Each night, during his correspondence time, he is allowed to take a 15 to 20 minute shower. On weekends and holidays, he is allowed to have approved visitors see him from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. He is allowed to receive letters from those on his approved list and from his legal counsel. If he receives a letter from someone not on his approved list, he must sign a rejection form. The letter is then either returned to the sender or destroyed.
"He is allowed to have any combination of up to 15 books or magazines. He must request the book or magazine by name. Once the book or magazine has been reviewed by the literary board at the confinement facility, and approved, he is allowed to have someone on his approved list send it to him. The person sending the book or magazine to him must do so through a publisher or an approved distributor such as Amazon. They are not allowed to mail the book or magazine directly to PFC Manning.
"Due to being held on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch: 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 not allowed to have any personal items in his cell. He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep. 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."
On December 23rd, David House posted his own report on Manning's condition:
"In his five months of detention [not counting two previous months in Kuwait], 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."
"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."
House quotes from a Daily Beast report of an interview with Coombs stating that Manning was initially -- and the article implies, baselessly -- placed on suicide watch: "When he was first arrested, Manning was put on suicide watch, but his status was quickly changed to 'Prevention of Injury' watch (POI), and under this lesser pretense he has been forced into his life of mind-numbing tedium. . . . Both Coombs and Manning's psychologist, Coombs says, are sure Manning is mentally healthy, that there is no evidence he's a threat to himself, and shouldn't be held in such severe conditions under the artifice of his own protection."