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!