The treatment of accused WikiLeaks source U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning during his detention is appalling. Manning was detained for seven months without being convicted of any crime, first in a military prison in Kuwait and, more recently, at the U.S. Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. Despite his history of good behavior as a detainee—Manning has yet to exhibit any violent behavior or disciplinary problems—he is regarded as a “maximum custody detainee.” This severe level of detention has led to inhumane treatment at the hands of his military jailers.
Manning is subjected to solitary confinement for 23 hours every day without a pillow or sheet for his bed. His activities within his cell are restricted. For example, he is under constant surveillance to keep him from exercising. His eyeglasses are taken from him and only returned for one hour each day when he’s allowed to read or watch TV.
He is kept under “prevention of injury watch”—which doesn’t require the same psychiatric approval as placing him under suicide watch—despite the fact that brig psychiatrists have maintained there is no mental health justification to indicate he’s actually a danger to himself. According to Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, the brig commander used this justification to force Manning to relinquish all of his clothing each night, sleep naked in a cold cell and face the humiliation of standing at attention nude each morning for roll call.
It was repulsive when similar treatment of military prisoners was discovered at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay military detention facilities. Such abuses should not occur anywhere, but it’s even more troubling to know they are happening on American soil to a U.S. soldier.
President Barack Obama took a strong stance against torture during the presidential election. He denounced the abuse of prisoners and rejected the “false choice” between our nation’s security and ideals. He even pledged to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which has yet to happen. After Manning’s abuse came to light, however, Obama publicly defended the military’s actions. He said the Pentagon assured him Manning’s treatment was appropriate and met basic standards.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was forced to resign after he said Manning’s abuse was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” at an academic event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The fact that Crowley lost his job for speaking out against military misconduct—and that Manning is in prison for essentially doing the same thing—speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s stance on transparency and open government.
What Manning did may be illegal, and it might have violated the terms of his military service—he was, after all, trusted with access to classified information with the understanding that he wasn’t supposed to disclose that information. However, his actions were ultimately for the good of the American people. Manning witnessed atrocities and misconduct within the military he could not, in good conscience, be a party to. Instead of sitting idly by and doing nothing, he decided to take action. He gave the public access to information it has every right to and let us know about the things our government is trying to hide.
None of the material Manning is accused of leaking gave away U.S. troop positions or otherwise endangered American lives. All he did was open the world’s eyes to the misconduct perpetrated worldwide by the U.S. government with the hopes of inspiring intelligent debate, conversation and change. For that, Manning is more of a hero than a criminal.
All members of our armed forces are regarded as heroes, but it takes a special class of valor and courage to witness wrongdoing in an organization as large and powerful as the U.S. military and stand up to it, rather than let it continue. The fact that Manning’s courage was rewarded with long-term imprisonment, abuse and capital charges is depressing. It suggests our government values secrecy, ignorance and intimidation more than honest and open discussion, and anyone who questions the status quo is likely to suffer for it.