Last week, MSNBC correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that the US Government lacked evidence to link Bradley Manning to Julian Assange.
Manning is, of course, the army private suspected of leaking US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. He has been held in Quantico Brig since 29 July 2010. The MSNBC report also put questions about Manning’s treatment in Quantico, particularly about his being improperly put on suicide watch, in the spotlight.
Manning’s lawyer David E. Coombs has also been posting information about the conditions under which Manning is being detained on his blog. So how is a suspected military whistleblower treated? Here’s Coomb’s on a day in the life of Bradley Manning on 18 December 2010.
Things can change fast. Manning was placed on suicide watch on 18 January — over the recommendation of two forensic psychiatrists. Is suicide watch a protective or a punitive measure? On filing a complaint about Manning being deemed a suicide risk, Coombs posted the following on 21 January:
"The suicide risk assignment meant that PFC Manning was required to remain in his cell for 24 hours a day. He was stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken away from him. He was forced to sit in essential blindness with the exception of the times that he was reading or given limited television privileges. During those times, his glasses were returned to him. Additionally, there was always a guard sitting outside of his cell watching him."
Coombs’s appeal was successful and Manning was returned to prevention of injury watch (POI).
"Life for PFC Manning, however, is not much better now that he has been returned to POI watch. Like suicide risk, he is held in solitary confinement. For 23 hours per day, he will sit in his cell. The guards will check on him every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning will be required to respond in some affirmative manner.
"At night, if the guards cannot see him clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure that he is okay. He will receive each of his meals in his cell. He will not be allowed to have a pillow or sheets. He will not be allowed to have any personal items in his cell. He will only be allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read. The book or magazine will be taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.
"He will be 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 will receive one hour of exercise outside of his cell daily. The guards will take him to an empty room and allow him to walk. He will usually just walk in figure eights around the room until his hour is complete. When he goes to sleep, he will be required to strip down to his underwear and surrender his clothing to the guards."
Manning’s most regular visitor, his friend David House, has also shared information about his visits to Quantico. On 23 December, he disputed Pentagon claims that Manning had access to newspapers and outdoor recreation or was permitted to exercise. He writes, "when told of the Pentagon’s statement that he did indeed receive exercise, Manning’s reply was that he is able to exercise insofar as walking in chains is a form of exercise." House’s visits to Manning may be restricted after House was detained when trying to visit in late January.
Still, the responses to questions about Manning fielded at a Department of Defense news briefing on Wednesday suggest that the US Government isn’t planning a chance of tactic. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell got started by issuing a general caution to journalists about how they reported the story:
"But I would avail myself of this opportunity to admonish or warn you all to be extraordinarily careful about how you report on this story, because one thing I can — I do feel comfortable in telling you is that this case is being taken extremely seriously by the investigators both here in the Defense Department and, of course, at the Department of Justice. They are hard at work at on building a case here.
"So any pronouncements about a connection or lack of connection, those that have been found or are yet to be found, are just premature at this point. So I’d urge everybody to proceed with caution on this, and probably most stories, for that matter."
Morell’s characterised the conditions of Manning’s detention in reasonably upbeat terms, insisting that he was being treated like any other prisoner.
"What I — let me describe how Private First Class Manning is being held. He is not in solitary confinement. He is not in isolation. He is in max — he is a maximum-custody detainee in a prevention-of-injury status. He is not on suicide watch. He is being held in the same quarter section with other pretrial detainees. He’s allowed to watch television. He’s allowed to read newspapers. He’s allowed one hour per day of exercise.
"He is in a cell by himself, but that is like every single other pretrial detainee at the brig. It just so happens that the configuration of the brig is that every individual is confined to his or her own cell. He’s being provided well-balanced, nutritious meals three times a day. He receives visitors and mail, and can write letters. He routinely meets with doctors, as well as his attorney. He’s allowed to make telephone calls. And he is being treated just like every other detainee in the brig.
"So assertions by liberal bloggers, or network reporters or others that he is being mistreated, or somehow treated differently than others, in isolation, are just not accurate. And I’m glad you asked the question, so I had the opportunity, hopefully, to clear that matter up once and for all."
Manning’s lawyer David E. Coombs certainly doesn’t agree that the matter has been cleared up once and for all. Read his response in a blog whose title sums it up clearly enough: "PFC Manning Is Not Being Treated Like Any Other Detainee."
There’s no doubt that serious procedural questions hover over the current and future legal treatment of Julian Assange, even as he continues to intrigue news editors and their readers across the world. Whistleblowing is a risky business, Assange’s experiences provide sufficient evidence of that.
It would be terrific if all people of conscience acted when they saw wrongdoing and corruption in their workplaces. But whistleblowing isn’t a simple act of conscience — and the treatment of Bradley Manning shows just how high the stakes can be.
You can donate to Bradley Manning’s legal defence here.
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