Tag Archives: torture

How the British Government is Failing Bradley Manning

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Guardian reported that Bradley Manning “is a UK citizen by descent from his Welsh mother, Susan.” This was the first time this statement had ever appeared in the British press and the fact of Bradley’s UK citizenship is now firmly on the record.

In that same article, the Guardian also revealed that this country has yet to offer Bradley Manning anything in the way of consular support. An official at the British embassy in Washington was quoted as saying that the case “hasn’t crossed our path.”

This failure to offer consular support should be of great concern to all British friends of Bradley Manning.  In cases of dual nationality, the British Government would normally make informal representations to the state concerned as a matter of course. This has not happened in the case of Bradley Manning.

More than this, a formal representation may be expected in cases where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sees a “special humanitarian reason” to get involved. In 2008 Kim Howells MP, then a Minister of State at the FCO, clarified the UK Government’s position on providing consular assistance to dual nationals where there is an allegation of torture:

“If we become aware of an allegation of torture against a dual UK national held in the country of their other nationality, it is likely we would seek consular access and we would carefully consider raising the allegation with the local authorities.”

We are only a few weeks into 2011, but there have already been three occasions this year when the British Government really should have sought consular access on behalf of Bradley Manning.

On 13th January 2011, the New York Times reported that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez had submitted a formal inquiry to the US State Department. A formal inquiry initiated by the UN’s Special Rapporteur constitutes a clear “allegation of torture.”

On 24th January 2011, Amnesty announced that they had written to US Defence secretary Robert Gates during the previous week. Amnesty’s Americas Programme Director, Susan Lee, spoke of her concern that “the conditions inflicted on Bradley Manning are unnecessarily severe and amount to inhumane treatment by the US authorities. Such repressive conditions breach the US’s obligations to treat detainees with humanity and dignity. We’re also concerned that isolation and prolonged cellular confinement, which evidence shows can cause psychological impairment, may undermine Bradley Manning’s ability to defend himself.”

Finally, on 26th January 2011, the Commander of the Quantico marine brig, James Averhart was dismissed following the revelation that Bradley Manning had been placed under suicide watch for two days for punitive rather than medical reasons. This is evidence of wrongdoing – a senior official exceeding his authority – showing that not only has the US military failed to abide by international human rights standards in this case, it has also failed to abide by the rules it sets for itself.

The three instances above are clear evidence of a ‘special humanitarian reason’ to intervene – in fact, it is hard to imagine how the case could possibly be any clearer. As Clive Stafford Smith rightly said in The Times last week, “If the British were principled, they would intervene.”

In the circumstances, the British Government has an absolute responsibility to seek consular access to Bradley Manning. That no attempt appears to have been made is definitely something worth writing to your MP about – and if you’re stuck for what to write in your letter, the contents of this blog post may provide a good starting point.

Why It Matters That Bradley Manning is a UK Citizen

Now that Bradley Manning’s dual citizenship is well and truly on the record, we want to be absolutely clear about why this is important.

Being a UK citizen does not make Bradley Manning’s case more important than that of any other prisoner of conscience. We would like to see all prisoners in his position, of whatever nationality, treated fairly.

Being a UK citizen does not make Bradley Manning more deserving of our sympathy. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of people who deserve it just as much.

Being a UK citizen does not mean that Bradley Manning should be able expect a different standard of care to any other individual in his position. Bradley is entitled to receive due process. He should not be subjected to “severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental.” This is the bare minimum that any prisoner in pre-trial detention should be able to expect.

There is one reason, and one reason only, why it matters that Bradley Manning is a citizen of the United Kingdom: it matters because it means that the UK Government has an absolute obligation to offer Bradley Manning its consular assistance, to investigate the conditions in which he is held and, if necessary, to help him. On 1st February, The Guardian reported that the British Embassy in Washington “had not received any requests to visit Manning in jail” despite widespread concern about the conditions of his detention. To date, the UK Government has conspicuously failed to fulfil its obligations towards Bradley Manning.

Amnesty weighs in

And about time too. The contents of a letter sent to US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last week have been released. Here are a few of the critical paragraphs:

Amnesty International recognizes that it may sometimes be necessary to segregate prisoners for
disciplinary or security purposes. However, the restrictions imposed in PFC Manning’s case appear to
be unnecessarily harsh and punitive, in view of the fact that he has no history of violence or disciplinary
infractions and that he is a pre-trial detainee not yet convicted of any offence.

The conditions under which PFC Manning is held appear to breach the USA’s obligations under
international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that “all persons deprived of
their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human
person”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR monitoring body, has noted in its General
Comment on Article 10 that persons deprived of their liberty may not be “subjected to any hardship or
constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty; respect for the dignity of such
persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons …”.

The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of
innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting
trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement – which
evidence suggests can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of
concentration – may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defence and thus his right to a fair

There are now a sizeable number of medical, psychological and international legal authorities who have expressed serious concerns about the conditions Bradley Manning is experiencing at the Quantico brig. Some of these authorities would be inclined to use the word ‘torture’ to describe these conditions and, indeed, the situation is now under official investigation from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez.

Bradley Manning is a dual UK/US citizen and as such is entitled to consular assistance from the UK. The UK Government tends not to intervene where dual citizens are involved with their other nation of citizenship, apart from in cases where they see “a special humanitarian reason to do so” – but I would have thought that a case under investigation by the UN and Amnesty would qualify, frankly. So just where is the British Government’s comment on all this?

“I think this may be punitive treatment…” David House interviewed on Canadian radio

This is a transcript of As It Happens, a CBC Radio show broadcast on 21 Jan 2011. David House is due to visit Bradley Manning today (Saturday) and deliver a 40,000 signature petition to the Quantico brig Commander. On the audio clip, his interview begins at the 9.50 mark.

Mr. House, what does this petition call for?

It calls for a stop to the inhumane conditions that Bradley Manning is currently confined under. Specifically it calls for a lifting of his solitary confinement and it calls for him to be able to exercise and go outside.

When you last saw Bradley Manning, your friend, what condition was he in?

Bradley Manning, when I first saw him in September, was very bright-eyed, a very engaging young man. He was able to talk quickly through conversational topics and relate things in the abstract and concrete, almost in professorial fashion – a very intelligent person.

Over time, I have noticed that his condition, psychologically, has been degrading. When I visited him last December, physically he had big bags under his eyes, very ashen in his face, he’d lost a lot of weight. He looked like someone who had not had exercise in several months, which in his case is true.

Psychologically that was the hardest for me to witness. Bradley has lost the ability to keep up with conversational topics, something he never had a problem with before. It’s very clear that there’s a sort of emotional suffering going on with him.

The Pentagon has come out and said, ‘oh Bradley is treated no differently from any other maximum custody detainee.’ What they are not telling you is two things. Firstly, not only is he a maximum custody detainee, he’s under an additional set of restrictions from a Prevention of Injury Order.

This Prevention of Injury Order is the order that requires him to be under solitary confinement. This is the order that requires him not to exercise, except for walking in an empty room once a day, in chains. That is the order that denies him access to newspapers, under such restrictions.

This order the army says is implemented due to concerns for his health, but in the time he’s been at Quantico three separate military psychiatrists at the Quantico brig have said there is no reason why Bradley should be under a POI order and that in fact the order is not necessary because he is not a risk for suicide.

In addition to that, what the Pentagon is also not telling you is that Bradley is the only maximum custody detainee currently at the Quantico brig, so when they say he is treated the same as any other maximum custody detainee, they are saying he is treated the same as himself.

In addition to the Prevention of Injury Order, he was placed under suicide watch this week. What do you know about that?

I actually just found out about the suicide watch when it broke in the Washington Post story and I find it very alarming. It seems he was put on this suicide watch for two days and that he was taken of the watch thereafter. From talking to people with knowledge of the case I have learned that as a provision of the suicide watch his glasses were removed, so he was effectively blind in his cell. He was kept in his cell for 24 hours a day rather than 23 hours a day and was kept in his boxer shorts in his cell at all times. There is also a guard watching him at all times.

I don’t know what to make of this, to be honest. Although Bradley’s mental state has been deteriorating as a result of the solitary confinement he is under, he has never seemed like an individual who would be at a risk of suicide, and the military psychiatrists agree with that. This seems punitive to me and the fact they would have him under this order immediately after the protests and immediately after all the media attention, and then take him off the order shortly thereafter… I think this may be punitive treatment from the brig Commander.

This is also something that his lawyer, David Coombs, is arguing strenuously, that it seems that anyone who has looked at Bradley Manning, all these psychology experts have said that he is not a risk to himself. When you say punitive, when the lawyer says that, what do you mean by that?

I think he is being held under such harsh conditions because the US Government is attempting to get him to crack under the pressure, possibly in an attempt to get him to roll over on Assange or something like that. So in that regard, Bradley has been singled out from the entire prison population for this very harsh treatment and as a result of that he is suffering psychological and social deterioration.

Do you think he is strong enough mentally to not break?

When I look in Bradley’s eyes, I see a man who is a very ethical individual, who is very humble and – above all else – very resolved. Despite the fact that Bradley has gone through all this utterly barbaric treatment from the US Government, he tells me he is able to meditate, at some points, and this centres him and gives him some sort of internal strength. He told me that he is able to maintain his resolve in the midst of this.

So I do believe that despite the psychological trauma he is undergoing, he is holding up much better than anyone I think could handle it in those circumstances.

He is a military man. He has been told by the people around him in the military that he has jeopardised the lives and security of his comrades in arms, who are in other countries. How does he respond to those criticisms?

I don’t know how Bradley Manning would respond to those criticisms, but I would bear in mind that the Pentagon has come out and said it cannot find evidence of a single individual that has been harmed as a result of the leaks from the Wikileaks organisation. And I can say that NATO in Kabul has come out and said it cannot find a single family in Afghanistan that has needed protecting.

So I think the narrative that there are sources being put at risk, that there are military men being put at risk by this alleged leak, this narrative is nothing more than damage control and spin by politicians in Washington trying to cover their own backs and trying to make a case for why whistleblowers that embarrass them should be locked up.

When do you think Bradley Manning will get his day in court?

It’s hard to say. It seems that the US Government is continually throwing stumbling blocks in the way of this investigation, maybe in an attempt to keep him locked up for longer and suffer more trauma as a result of his conditions. I really couldn’t say when his trial will be but I hope he has access to a speedy trial.

You are delivering this petition tomorrow. It has, what, 30,000 signatures on it?

The petition I am delivering tomorrow has 40,000 signatures on and it will be going directly to the brig Commander. This petition, again, calls for a stop to the inhumane conditions Bradley is being kept under. As a US citizen, I feel really ashamed that we are keeping an alleged whistleblower locked up under solitary confinement and I feel that these conditions especially must be changed.

Do you think you’ll get a chance to see Bradley Manning tomorrow, when you’re in Virginia?

I think I will. I have had some trouble in the past actually making it into the brig due to security precautions on the base. I do not think the brig would deny access to what has become one of his only visitors. To do so would be an egregious breach on the part of the brig. I cannot imagine them doing that.


As you may have heard, David House was not able to visit Bradley or deliver that petition. Another attempt will be made this weekend, which means there is still time to sign, if you haven’t already done so. 42,000 signatures so far and counting!

Bradley Manning on Suicide Watch

This morning’s Washington Post reports that Bradley Manning was placed on suicide watch for two days this week (ending Wednesday evening), against the recommendation of the Quantico brig’s forensic psychiatrist and – seemingly – “for no medical reason” whatsoever. This is a highly disturbing development, but one that is consistent with the use of ostensibly medical measures (eg. the Prevention of Injury Order) for the purposes of punishing Bradley Manning and/or pressuring him to accept a plea bargain that has been a regular feature of his detention at Quantico.

Bradley Manning’s legal representative, David E. Coombs, has now made an official complaint to the Quantico Base Commander and his update is worth reading in full.

Incidentally, Bradley Manning’s other regular visitor, the activist David House, is due to visit over the weekend when he will deliver a 30,000-signature petition to the Quantico authorities, appealing for a lifting of Manning’s Prevention of Injury order. There is still time to sign this if you haven’t done so already.

Former Commander of Headquarters Company at Quantico Objects to Treatment of Bradley Manning

What concerns me here, and I hasten to admit that I respect Manning’s motives, is the manner in which the legal action against him is being conducted. I wonder, in the first place, why an Army enlisted man is being held in a Marine Corps installation. Second, I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system. Third, I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement—solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc.—are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, US or international.

Read the full letter from David C. MacMichael here.

The lonely battle against solitary confinement

Not the post I was planning to make next, but this article, which has just appeared on the Guardian website annoyed me somewhat.

My comment (off the cuff, so please excuse any awkwardness of expression):

Conditions in US supermax prisons are undeniably severe – and the use of solitary confinement in itself may well constitute torture. However, what this article neglects to mention is that the treatment Bradley Manning is receiving at Quantico – in pre-trial detention, remember, he hasn’t been convicted of anything – is worse than the general supermax standard.

Bradley Manning is being kept in what the US military justice system calls ‘maximum custody’; it’s the most severe kind of detention in the US penal arsenal. But, more than this, he is being held under a Prevention of Injury Order (despite having been passed by a military-approved psychiatrist) that means, for example, that his guards are obliged to ask him if he is OK every five minutes of the day. He must answer this question, every five minutes, explicitly and vocally. A nod of the head will not suffice. This treatment is definitely ‘unusual’ and to claim otherwise is highly disingenuous.

Manning’s treatment is clearly designed to break him psychologically and pressure him into accepting a plea bargain. He has now been imprisoned for 238 days without showing any signs of doing the latter – and, without meaning to diminish the sins of the US prison system generally, this exceptional resilience and courage does deserve to be recognised as something quite apart. This article doesn’t help, frankly.

And that’s without even touching on the citizenship question.

Essential reading: http://www.armycourtmartialdefense.info/2010/12/typical-day-for-pfc-bradley-manning.html

For more info (I’ve only just started this but will be adding more soon): ukfriendsofbradleymanning.wordpress.com

Two Revelations

This blog was directly inspired by Glenn Greenwald’s article of 15th December, The inhuman conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention. This article profoundly shocked me, and for two distinct reasons.

I already knew, of course, that Bradley Manning was a young soldier awaiting trial in the US on charges of releasing military and State Department data. I knew that at least some of what Manning was alleged to have leaked exposed significant wrongdoing on the part of the US military, wrongdoing that the world needed to be made aware of.

I also already knew that penal conditions in the United States can be extremely tough, more so than would be tolerated in Western Europe, and that military justice was likely to be even worse, if anything.

What I wasn’t aware of was the exceptional, solitary, higher-than-supermax, regime that Bradley Manning was – and still is – experiencing, even though he has not yet had his trial date set, let alone been convicted of any crime.  An increasing number of doctors, psychologists and international legal authorities would be inclined to say that such conditions amount to torture.

I also was not aware of the following:

…because Manning holds dual American and U.K. citizenship (his mother is British), it is possible for British agencies and human rights organizations to assert his consular rights against these oppressive conditions.

There is much more to say about all this. But that was my starting point, just over a month ago.