March 16, 2011

The US government should publicly explain the precise reasons behind extremely restrictive and possibly punitive and degrading treatment that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning alleges he has received while detained at the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, said Human Rights Watch.

Manning, age 23, is a former Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, a media organization. Manning was originally charged with transferring classified data to his personal computer but earlier this month an additional 22 charges were filed. An "Article 32" hearing, the military's precursor to a formal indictment, is expected to be held in the next few weeks.

Since his arrival at Quantico in July 2010, Manning has been in maximum security custody and under "Prevention of Injury" (POI) status, a category of classification for detainees who pose a risk of self-harm. Manning and his lawyer have challenged the decision to keep him in maximum security confinement and on POI status as improper and irregular, particularly in light of the consistent recommendations by military mental health professionals that he be removed from POI. Manning also alleges that he is being kept in what amounts to solitary confinement and is not permitted to exercise in his cell. 

Beginning on March 2, 2011, the suicide watch procedures were increased and Manning was prevented from wearing clothing during the night. The following morning, Manning alleges that he was forced to stand at the entrance of his cell naked, with his hands at his sides, for several minutes prior to being given back his underwear and other clothing. He was subsequently provided with a suicide "smock," which is difficult to tear, but no underwear to wear at night, a common practice for prisoners on suicide watch. During the day he may wear his regular clothing. Prison authorities have responsibility to protect the lives and well-being of detainees, including by adopting appropriate measures to prevent suicide or self-harm.

According to regulations governing operation of the brig issued by the secretary of the Navy, when a prisoner has been assessed to no longer pose a suicide risk by a medical officer they should be returned to appropriate quarters. According to a complaint filed by Manning, on 16 occasions military mental health professionals recommended that he be removed from POI status. While Manning's complaint was made public by his lawyer, the brig commander has not released the brig's formal response to his allegations. If Manning agrees to the release of medical or mental health information that would otherwise be confidential to protect his privacy, the government should immediately make public its rationale for his continued POI status.

Manning's case has drawn considerable attention because of his alleged connection to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which published the classified material Manning is alleged to have procured. The new charges filed against Manning, for which the death penalty is possible, include aiding the enemy, even though Manning allegedly provided documents to WikiLeaks, not an agent of a government or armed group at war with the US. The removal of Manning's underwear during the evenings began the same day the additional charges were filed.