Monday, March 21, 2011

32 arrested at Quantico/Letter seeking a meeting to discuss the confinement of Bradley Manning.



I was one of 32 arrested during a Free Bradley Manning rally outside the gates of the Marine Corps Base Quantico on March 20.  I am scheduled for court in Manassas, VA on May 4 facing two charges—unlawful assembly and malicious obstruction of traffic.   Despite their brutal treatment of some arrestees, no state troopers were taken into custody.  A more detailed report of the closure of Virginia Route 1 will be sent later.






March 16, 2011

Commandant Colonel Daniel J. Choike

Marine Corps Base Quantico

C/o of Thomas V. Johnson, public information officer, at 

Dear Commandant:

We are members of organizations concerned about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, and we strongly believe in due process, and the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.  Because of the ongoing mistreatment of Private First Class [PFC] Bradley Manning, we are writing to request a meeting with you.

It is remarkable that a U.S. soldier is receiving such inhumane treatment at a U.S. military base.  We are writing because we have an obligation to speak out against this mistreatment, and intend to be at Marine Corps Base Quantico on Sunday, March 20.  A small delegation would be prepared to meet with you that day or some day before at your convenience.

The treatment received by PFC Manning is shocking.  As if the prolonged isolation of solitary confinement was not enough, most recently the prisoner was humiliated by forced nudity.  For whatever reason, the prisoner was given an uncomfortable smock to wear, and it is understandable why Manning would not want to wear it.  This treatment is being doled out to a military prisoner who has only been charged, but not convicted. 

We can imagine several reasons for the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning.  However, we do not want to speculate, and would rather discuss this matter with you.  Regardless of the reasons, we have to speak out against this ignoble mistreatment.

We know that the excuse being given for continuing the POI conditions (and the nudity at night) is for Manning's own safety and well-being, but this is not a credible justification.  The brig psychiatrist's repeated judgment is that such treatment is not well-founded or necessary, and both the defendant and his counsel have complained.  The assertions that his treatment is "ordinary," that he is being treated "like any other prisoner in his status" are deliberately misleading, since they fail to convey that his status combining Maximum Security and POI is unique at the brig, unprecedented (?) for such a prolonged period, and neither condition is justified for this defendant, let alone the combination, any more than the brief, unjustified Suicide Watch.  The continuation of these conditions by the brig authorities against the recommendations of the brig psychiatrist is abusive and punitive, and therefore illegal.

On Dec. 19, 2010, Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, provided details of the incarceration:  “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 receives each of his meals in his cell. He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets.”

Manning is barred from interaction with other prisoners even during his one hour of “exercise” in an empty room.  On Mar. 3, 2011, Pentagon spokesperson Geoffrey Morrell defended the general conditions of Manning’s maximum security imprisonment due to “the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence [and] the national security implications.” [NYT, March 4, 2011].  He failed to mention due process or Constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment

The most damaging condition is the prolonged isolation.  David House, who has visited Manning, filed a report at FireDogLake (which had been following the soldier’s plight closer than any site) expressing concern for Manning’s possible mental deterioration.  The cruel treatment is likely to create long-term psychological injuries.  On Jan. 5, 2011, on Democracy Now!, Dr. Atul Gawande said, “People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture.” See Gawande’s article in the New Yorker, “Hellhole,” March 30, 2009, on the psychological damage of long-term solitary confinement.  The maximum security condition has no legal justification for this long period and must be reduced to medium security (allowing interaction with other prisoners during the workday), along with termination of the totally unjustified POI.

On March 4, Congressperson Dennis Kucinich released a press release in conjunction with his repeated requests to visit with Manning.  Again he expressed his grave concern about the treatment of Manning:  

“After initial allegations of mistreatment, I requested a visit with Private Manning to see for myself the conditions of his treatment. Despite the fact that Manning has not been found guilty of any crime, his lawyer reports that he is in isolation 23 out 24 hours every day, conditions which may violate his 8th Amendment protection from ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. This treatment is in stark contrast to a presumption of innocence and raises questions of whether Pfc. Manning can be fit for trial.”

Kucinich was quite specific about the decision to strip the prisoner: “This ‘non-punitive’ action would be considered a violation of the Army Field Manual if used in an interrogation overseas. The justification for and purpose of this action certainly raises questions of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and could constitute a potential violation of international law.” He added this, “The Army Field Manual,  2-22.3 (FM 34-52): Human Intelligence Collector Operations, Page 5-21, section 5-75 clearly states that: ‘If used in conjunction with intelligence interrogations, prohibited actions include, but are not limited to- Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.” We're shocked that Representative Kucinich has for over a month been frustrated in his repeated efforts to see Manning and investigate his conditions, which gives urgency to our own concern and our determination to speak with you.

On March 5, Coombs also addressed the forced nudity, and indicated he believes “they intend to continue this practice indefinitely.” He added these specifics: “Each night, Brig guards force PFC Manning to relinquish all of his clothing.  He then lies in a cold jail cell naked until the following morning, when he is required to endure the humiliation of standing naked at attention for the morning roll call.  According to Marine spokesperson, First Lieutenant Brian Villiard, the decision to strip him naked every night is for PFC Manning’s own protection.  Villiard stated that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to explain what prompted these actions ‘because to discuss the details would be a violation of PFC Manning’s privacy.’” The military’s response to this latest indignity could have been written by Franz Kafka.

Coombs did a follow-up: “The defense communicated with both PFC Manning and the Brig forensic psychiatrist and learned more about the decision to strip PFC Manning of his clothing every night.” Manning’s lawyer pointed out the disparity in comments by military representatives and the actions taken: “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.” 

It was astonishing to read Coombs’ understanding of the decision-making: “Without consulting any Brig mental health provider, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes used PFC’s Manning’s sarcastic quip as justification to increase the restrictions imposed upon him under the guise of being concerned that PFC Manning was a suicide risk.  PFC Manning was not, however, placed under the designation of Suicide Risk Watch.  This is because Suicide Risk Watch would have required a Brig mental health provider’s recommendation, which the Brig commander did not have.  In response to this specific incident, the Brig psychiatrist assessed PFC Manning as ‘low risk and requiring only routine outpatient follow-up [with] no need for … closer clinical observation.’” Finally, Coombs wrote, “In particular, he indicated that PFC Manning’s statement about the waist band of his underwear was in no way prompted by ‘a psychiatric condition.’”

We think it is urgent to sit down and discuss the treatment of PFC Bradley Manning.  We concur with the observation made by David E. Coombs: ”There is no justification, and there can be no justification, for treating a detainee in this degrading and humiliating manner.”

We look forward to your response, as we believe citizen activists have the right to challenge misbehavior by government officials. Your response will be shared with others concerned with the mistreatment of Bradley Manning. Thank you for considering our request to meet with you.

In peace,

Max Obuszewski

On behalf of the Washington Metro Support for Bradley Manning


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