ACLU Protests Manning’s Treatment in Letter to Pentagon
The American Civil Liberties Union calls the treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning unconstitutional and “gratuitously harsh.” The remarks came in a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
“The Supreme Court has long held that the government violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment whenever it ‘unnecessarily and wantonly inflicts pain,’ the ACLU’s letter read. “No legitimate purpose is served by keeping Private Manning stripped naked; in prolonged isolated confinement and utter idleness; subjected to sleep deprivation through repeated physical inspections throughout the night; deprived of any meaningful opportunity to exercise, even in his cell; and stripped of his reading glasses so that he cannot read. Absent any evident justification, such treatment is clearly forbidden by our Constitution.”
The ACLU statement follows the resignation of former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who was pushed out of his job after publicly calling Manning’s treatment by the military “counterproductive and stupid.” President Barack Obama, when asked about Crowley’s statements at a press conference, said Pentagon officials had assured him that Manning’s treatment was appropriate and was being meted out according to procedures.
Manning, 23, was arrested last May in Iraq after telling a former hacker that he had leaked vast amounts of classified material to the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks. He was subsequently transferred to Kuwait, where he was detained for about two months before being moved to the U.S. Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia.
The former Army intelligence analyst faces more than two dozen charges, among them a capital offense — though the Army has said it isn’t pursuing the death penalty. Manning is currently awaiting a “706 board” inquiry requested by his attorney to determine if he suffered a “severe mental disease or defect” at the time of his alleged leaking. If he’s found to have been mentally fit, the case will proceed to the military equivalent of a grand jury.
For most of his time at the brig, Manning has been held in highly restrictive pretrial confinement. Designated a maximum-custody detainee under prevention-of-injury watch, or POI, he is confined to his cell for all but an hour a day, and has a number of other restrictions placed on him. Until recently he was allowed to sleep only in boxer shorts and was told the restrictions were meant to prevent him from harming himself.
After authorities denied a recent appeal from the soldier to ease up on his conditions, citing risk of self-harm as justification, Manning quipped to brig personnel that he could just as easily harm himself with the elastic waistband in his boxer shorts. A chief warrant officer at the brig then ordered Manning stripped of his undershorts as well.
Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, wrote on his blog that his client was forced to stand at attention naked, and called the military’s treatment “punitive.”
In a statement released to PBS, the Defense Department disputed that Manning was made to stand at attention in the nude.
“In recent days, as the result of concerns for Pfc. Manning’s personal safety, his undergarments were taken from him during sleeping hours,” the statement read. “Pfc. Manning at all times had a bed and a blanket to cover himself. He was not made to stand naked for morning count but, but on one day, he chose to do so. There were no female personnel present at the time. Pfc. Manning has since been issued a garment to sleep in at night. He is clothed in a standard jumpsuit during the day.”
Manning’s father, Brian Manning, recently broke his longtime silence to protest his son’s “shocking” treatment, saying the military had crossed a line.
“This is someone who has not gone to trial or been convicted of anything,” Brian Manning told PBS’Frontline. “They worry about people down in a base in Cuba, but here they are, have someone on our own soil, under their own control, and they’re treating him this way…. It’s shocking enough that I would come out of our silence as a family and say … you’ve crossed a line. This is wrong.”
The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all published editorials in recent days condemning Manning’s treatment. The New York Times called his treatment “creepy” and reminiscent of the Bush administration’s handling of terror suspects held at the Guantanamo prison.