The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, is investigating a complaint on behalf of Bradley Manning that he is being mistreated in US custody. The twenty-two year-old US Army private has been convicted of no crime. Yet he is already being punished, held in mind-maddening solitary confinement that has been declared by many courts to be torture. Despite his promise that America will no longer torture, President Obama’s administration is allowing just that, or something very damn close to it, to happen to this hero of free speech.
Manning is accused of leaking classified US military and diplomatic documents exposing war crimes and government cover-ups of child rape, torture, the massacre of innocent civilians in countries against which the United States has not declared hostilities, the killing of journalists and State Department spying on U.S. allies and the United Nations.
For seven months now, Manning has been imprisoned at the US Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. He is being held in 23-hour a day solitary confinement in what the Department of Defense calls ‘maximum custody’ conditions. He faces sleep deprivation and lacks such basic comfort items as a pillow or regular sheets. He has not seen sunlight in a month. He has very little human interaction. He cannot exercise without shackles and chains.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has likened such conditions to torture and calls them “a serious violation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.” If you thought it was just George W. Bush who had little or no regard for the international rules and laws regarding the treatment of prisoners during wartime, think again. Far worse tortures continue under President Obama’s watch. Nobel Peace Prize indeed.
Solitary confinement is torture. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It is, in fact, one of the most insidious types of torture there is. Contact with other people is a basic human need. Without it the mind literally breaks down. A 1992 study of 57 Yugoslav prisoners of war found that the most severe brain abnormalities occurred in the men who had experienced physical trauma, like severe blows to the head, or in those who had been subjected to solitary confinement.
“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” said Senator John McCain, who spent two of his five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam in isolation, “it crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” The U.S. military studied scores of former P.O.W.s from the Vietnam War and concluded that solitary confinement was as excruciating as any physical torture the men had endured.
The effects of prolonged solitary confinement include inability to tolerate ordinary stimuli, sleep and appetite disturbances, primitive forms of thinking and aggressive ruminations, perceptual distortions and hallucinations, agitation, panic attacks, claustrophobia, feelings of loss of control, rage, paranoia, memory loss, lack of concentration, generalized body pain, EEG abnormalities, depression, suicidal ideation and random, self-destructive behavior.
Various courts have ruled that such isolation is in violation of the Eight Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The US District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled in Ruiz v. Johnson that solitary confinement is tantamount to torture and found that prison inmates in solitary “suffer actual psychological harm from their almost total deprivation of human contact, mental stimulus, personal property and human dignity.”
There are reliable indicators that Bradley Manning, who has been convicted of no crime, is already suffering some of the adverse affects associated with this form of “no-touch torture.” And that may very well be the goal of his captors; to break him down and teach him that it doesn’t pay to fuck with the most powerful nation that ever existed in all of human history and to make an example to show the whole world what happens when you try to do the right thing and shine light upon the horrific crimes of an out-0f-control yet dying empire.
Bradley Manning ought to be celebrated as a hero. But instead he is being very nearly tortured by his government and abandoned by his country.