Supposed WikiLeaks Source in Solitary Confinement: Is It Torture?

Bradley Manning, an alleged WikiLeaks source, is locked up at Quantico

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Army Specialist Bradley Manning, arrested in June for allegedly leaking the classified material that WikiLeaks has since widely disseminated, has reportedly been detained in solitary confinement. Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a staunch defender of WikiLeaks and harsh critic of the U.S. government's response, reports that officials at Quantico's brig say that Manning is under solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, during which time he is monitored and barred from such activities as exercise.

The report has generated outrage among WikiLeaks supporters, who question the morality of how the 22 year-old Manning is being treated. These supporters, while outspoken against Manning's treatment, are careful to focus on what they describe as the immorality of such punitive confinement in general, and largely decline to argue that Manning is innocent of any crime. "Ultimately, what one thinks of Manning's alleged acts is irrelevant to the issue here," Greenwald writes.

Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado:  all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig's medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.

Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture.
It is unclear how many prisoners in solitary confinement become psychotic. Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist, has interviewed more than two hundred prisoners in solitary confinement. In one in-depth study, prepared for a legal challenge of prisoner-isolation practices, he concluded that about a third developed acute psychosis with hallucinations. The markers of vulnerability that he observed in his interviews were signs of cognitive dysfunction—a history of seizures, serious mental illness, mental retardation, illiteracy, or, as in Felton’s case, a diagnosis such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, signalling difficulty with impulse control. In the prisoners Grassian saw, about a third had these vulnerabilities, and these were the prisoners whom solitary confinement had made psychotic. They were simply not cognitively equipped to endure it without mental breakdowns.
  • Is Manning a Political Prisoner?  "One of the headlines running on the Foreign Policy website today (and for the last several days)," Blogger Lew Rockwell muses, "is 'Planet Gulag: The world has many Liu Xiaobos. Here are 15 who matter.' ... But some of the things these governments accuse these dissidents of sounds an awful lot like the language used to describe the likes of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. I wonder. Will Manning or Assange ever make that list?"
  • U.S. Continues Use of Torture  "Wait a second," New York Magazine's Nitasha Tiku writes, "is Greenwald telling us that the U.S. government is willing to bend the law and play psychological games with people it perceives as a threat to national security? That doesn't sound like ... oh, never mind."
  • Sorry, He Committed Treason  Commentary's J.E. Dyer, writing before news of Manning's treatment came out, made the case that Manning had committed a serious crime:
The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning's pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country's interests in wartime. ... I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do--on pain of severe penalties--what Bradley Manning is charged with doing.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.