Saving Private Manning

The accused leaker of classified information picks a good week to tell his story of mistreatment and abuse.


Whatever else he is, Private Bradley Manning is still presumed innocent until proven guilty. And whatever else he happens to mean to you or to this nation, whatever else he has come to symbolize during his brief time in the world's harsh glare, he is still an American citizen and we are still a nation of laws. This past week, Pvt. Manning finally came to court in the Pentagon's big WikiLeaks case against him-- to both accuse and to confess-- and his timing could hardly have been better.

Pvt. Manning spoke about prisoner abuse at his pretrial hearing in Ft. Meade, Maryland, the same week a sitting U.S. senator, himself a former military prosecutor, called our detainees at Guantanamo Bay "crazy bastards." That senator is Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, whose consistent misjudgments about those men (the unconstitutional Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the unconstitutional Military Commissions Act of 2006, etc.) are a big part of the reason why so many of them, a decade after they were first captured, still have never been tried, either by military tribunal down at Gitmo or in federal civilian court.

Pvt. Manning, widely accused of committing "biggest security breach" in the nation's history, spoke about harsh psychological treatment the same week another senator, Diane Feinstein, the Democrat from California, released to the public the typically trenchant work of the General Accountability Office. Asked to determine where the 167 or so Gitmo prisoners could safely be sent within the United States should the Cuban facility be closed, the federal fact-finders came back with an answer-- 104 places!-- but also a stern and timely reminder to lawmakers and bureaucrats that our federal prison system already is 38 percent overcrowded.

Pvt. Manning, who is in the process of pleading guilty to seven of the charges against him, spoke about mental illness under confinement the same week a federal judge in Denver was poised to issue a critical pretrial ruling in two important civil rights lawsuits over the deplorable conditions and the mental health mistreatment of inmates at the Bureau of Prison's infamous "Supermax" facility near Florence, Colorado. U.S. District Judge Richard Match soon will decide whether to require the Obama Administration to make prison officials and their records available for review by the plaintiffs in those pending cases.

Pvt. Manning, in custody now since May 2010 while Wikileaks founder Julian Assange nurtures his asylum, spoke about going mad, and trying to stay sane, in captivity the same week a federal trial judge in Miami granted Jose Padilla extra time before his re-sentencing on terror conspiracy charges. You remember Jose Padilla, don't you? He is the U.S. citizen who was once called the "dirty bomb" suspect and then subjected to Bush-era interrogation tactics which then drove him into madness. When it came time for the feds to prosecute Padilla, however, it was for a bush-league conspiracy supported by barely any evidence.  

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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