Punishing Pfc. Manning

Illustrating the fact that telling the truth can be fatal in Washington, an Obama administration official has resigned after characterizing the Pentagon’s handling of Pfc. Bradley Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was referring to the harsh treatment that has been visited on Manning, who is suspected of turning over several hundred thousand confidential documents to WikiLeaks.

Manning: A March 15 editorial said that new charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning were filed last week. The charges were filed two weeks ago.

Manning, who is being held in the brig at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia, has been confined to “maximum custody.” He also has been subject to a “prevention of injury” order. The result is that he is kept in his cell 23 hours a day. According to his attorney, Manning is also denied sheets, forbidden to exercise in his cell and not allowed to sleep between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Most recently, the attorney has alleged that Manning has been stripped naked at bedtime — the result, apparently, of Manning’s sarcastic comment that if he wanted to commit suicide, he could use the elastic band in his underwear or his flip-flops. After requiring him to sleep naked for several days, the Pentagon says Manning now sleeps in “tear-proof garments.”

Undercutting the argument that Manning needs to be protected from himself is the fact that he is not on suicide watch, which requires a recommendation from a brig mental health official. According to Manning’s attorney, a brig psychiatrist said that Manning’s comment about the elastic in his underwear was in no way prompted by his psychiatric state. It’s unclear whether President Obama knew these details when he told reporters last week that the conditions in which Manning was held were “appropriate” and that “some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety.”


It’s hard to resist the conclusion that punishment, not protection, is the purpose of these degrading measures. Punishment may be in Manning’s future; he was charged last week with an additional 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy. But Manning’s treatment should reflect the fact that he remains innocent until proven guilty.

Manning’s lawyer was unsuccessful in convincing Quantico’s base commander that his client should be removed from prevention of injury status and reclassified from maximum custody to medium detention. The matter is likely to reach Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. Mabus should take a fresh look at Manning’s complaint and not be influenced by Obama’s comments, which essentially restated the Pentagon’s position. If Mabus reviews the evidence, we expect he will agree with Crowley that the treatment of Manning has been “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”