If the U.S. military is really concerned that a soldier in its custody might commit suicide, it would seem like a bad idea to keep him isolated in a prison cell for months and forcibly stripped naked for seven hours a day while under constant surveillance.
But that's just what the Marines at the brig in Quantico, Virginia are apparently doing to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking secret government documents to Wikileaks.
According to his lawyer, David Coombs, Manning, who is in Maximum security and Prevention of Injury watch, was once again stripped naked on Thursday night. This is apparently part of a new regimen implemented earlier this week. Coombs said he was first stripped and left naked in his cell for seven hours on Wednesday, as the New York Times reported this morning.
First Lieutenant Brian Villard, a Marine spokesman, told the Times that the decision was "not punitive" and is in accordance with Brig rules. But, he added, it would be "inappropriate for me to explain it."
Inappropriate, or impossible?
As Coombs notes in his blog: "There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning. This treatment is even more degrading considering that PFC Manning is being monitored -- both by direct observation and by video -- at all times."
Coombs was told that Brig officials decided to implement this new nakedness policy without consulting any of the Brig's mental health providers.
When I last wrote about Manning's treatment, Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice who teaches at Yale Law School, told me that the extreme conditions of his confinement were "not customary" and seemed particularly troublesome for someone believed to be a danger to himself. He would be better off in a hospital if that's the case, Fidell said.
If Manning wasn't mentally disturbed already, it would seem that forcing him to stay naked in his cell all night while under constant surveillance, then to stand naked outside the cell while it's inspected, would certainly push him in that direction.
David House, a friend of Manning's, told reporters on Thursday that he believes Manning's mental condition is rapidly deteriorating. In addition to being kept isolated in a cell 23 hours a day, Manning gets one hour to exercise -- alone -- in an empty room indoors.
Pfc Manning, arrested last May, was initially charged with "transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system in connection with the leaking of a video of a helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007," and "communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source and disclosing classified information concerning the national defense with reason to believe that the information could cause injury to the United States."
On Wednesday, the government filed another 22 charges, including "aiding the enemy," which can be punishable by death. The government has said it will not seek the death penalty in this case. That may be because, as Jane Hamsher noted on Firedoglake, it's not really clear who the enemy is in this case: Wikileaks?
Pentagon spokesman Goeffrey Morrell on Thursday said that Manning is being held under his current confinement conditions due to "the seriousness of the charges he's facing, the potential length of sentence, the national security implications, and also the potential harm to him that he could do to himself or from others," adding that the conditions were ultimately "for his [PFC Manning's] own good."
It's not at all clear, however, how any of this is for the good of Pfc Manning. On the contrary, it appears to be a form of punishment for what the government is now suggesting is some sort of terrorist activity, although Wikileaks is not a terrorist organization and in any event, Manning has yet to be court-martialed for it.
Article 13 of the UCMJ expressly forbids punishing a military servicemember by conditions of confinement that are "any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence" at trial. Although he may be punished for disciplinary infractions in prison, the military has not claimed that he's broken any prison rules or been other than a model prisoner.
Coombs has filed a complaint about Manning's conditions, and on Wednesday, the government filed its response. The military denied Manning's request to be removed from Maximum custody and from Prevention of Injury watch.