Mark Wilson / Getty Images file
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted away from his Article 32 hearing on February 23, 2012 in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning’s 11 months in solitary confinement was “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” the UN chief on torture said Monday, though he stopped short of calling it torture.
Manning, 25, faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy after he allegedly released classified documents to WikiLeaks. He was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day following his arrest in May 2010 in Iraq, and continuing through his transfer to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va.
The confinement, lasting about 11 months, ended upon his transfer to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on April 20, 2011.
When Juan Mendez, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, asked Department of Defense officials why Manning was held in such a condition, he was told it was due to the gravity of the crime and for “prevention of harm” – though they did not specify what that meant, citing privacy concerns.
“He hasn't been convicted of any crime yet so … subjecting him to a very long period of solitary confinement on the basis that he might be found guilty of a crime seems to me to be both a violation of his presumption of innocence but also a violation of his right not to be treated cruelly or inhumanely,” Mendez told msnbc.com.
As for the “harm” issue, it would be difficult to assess though it seemed “excessive to protect him from some harm that is kind of indeterminate and ... even fanciful,” particularly since Manning has no history of violence, he added.
The explanations for Manning’s solitary confinement were “insufficient,” according to Mendez. “That's why I reached the conclusion that the United States government was responsible for having inflicted on him cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” he said.
“Those are the words of the convention against torture that the United States has signed and ratified,” he said. “It's one degree less than torture and I'm not in a position to say that anything that happened to Manning amounted to torture, but it seems to me that solitary confinement by itself raises some flags and if it's prolonged, as in this case, it does cross a line.”
Mendez included the conclusions of his investigation of Manning’s case in a Feb. 29 addendum of his report on “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The Guardian reported Mendez's findings in the case on Monday.
Since Manning’s move, the situation has improved, with him having access to other inmates, for example, Mendez said.
In a May 2011 letter from Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson to Mendez, Johnson wrote that “there was considerable misinformation in the public dialogue” about Manning’s confinement at Quantico and that it met legal and regulatory standards.
“Though Private Manning was classified as a maximum custody detainee at Quantico, he occupied the very same type of single-occupancy cell that all other pretrial detainees occupied, regardless of their custody classification,” Johnson said.
A call placed to the Army's Military District of Washington media representatives after hours seeking comment on Mendez's remarks was not immediately returned.
At a court hearing in late February at Fort Meade near Baltimore, Manning declined to enter a plea. Another court session is scheduled for March 15-16, according to The Associated Press.
The Bradley Manning Support Network argues that Manning is a whistleblower, citing online discussions in which he allegedly said he hoped to generate “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms” and wanted “people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
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