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US Subjected Manning to Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment, UN Torture Chief Concludes

Bradley Manning. (Photo: Bradley Manning Support Network / Flickr)

The United States government subjected Bradley Manning to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment following his arrest in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret State Department cables and other documents to WikiLeaks, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture concluded in a long-awaited report.

In an addendum to a report presented to the UN General Assembly on the protection of human rights, Juan Méndez wrote that “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”

Méndez told The Guardian UK Monday, “If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”

Spokespeople for the State Department and Department of Defense did not return calls seeking comment. Last year, PJ Crowley was forced to resign from his position as a State Department spokesman for publicly condemning Manning's treatment, which he characterized as “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.”

Méndez said during a book salon I hosted at Firedoglake last December he became concerned about Manning when he started to hear reports about that the Army intelligence officer was being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for nearly a year at the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico and on numerous occasions was forced to strip naked and surrender his clothes to guards prior to going to sleep.

Méndez, who spent 14 months investigating Manning's treatment, accused US government officials in a December 2010 letter of using harsh tactics, such as solitary confinement, against Manning “in an effort to coerce him into 'co-operation' with the authorities for, allegedly for the purpose of persuading [Manning] to implicate others.”

Méndez stressed in his report that “solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.”

“To the Special Rapporteur's request for information on the authority to impose and the purpose of the isolation regime, the [US] government responded that the prison rules authorized the brig commander to impose it on account of the seriousness of the offense for which [Manning] would eventually be charged,” Méndez's report says.

Additionally, “[d]epending on the specific reason for its application, conditions, length, effects and other circumstances, solitary confinement can amount to a breach of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to an act defined in article 1 or article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.”

The US government countered, according to Méndez's report, that Manning was not subjected to “solitary confinement,” rather he was under “prevention of harm watch.” However, the US did not provide Méndez with any details about the “what harm was being prevented.”

Méndez told me during the book salon that he had “frank conversation[s] with the [Department of Defense] about the conditions of [Manning's] incarceration” and requested that he be permitted to visit and speak with the soldier confidentially.

“I was allowed to see him but with no guarantees of confidentiality, terms that I could not accept,” said Méndez, who highlighted this point in his report. “I offered to see Manning nonetheless, through his lawyer, if he wanted to see me, but he preferred not to waive his right to a truly private conversation. In the meantime, when he was moved from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth [in April 2011], his conditions changed and he is no longer in solitary confinement. I am still insisting on seeing him.”

However, “to date the [US] Government continues to refuse to allow the Special Rapporteur to conduct private, unmonitored, and privileged communications with Private Manning, in accordance with the working methods of his mandate,” Méndez added in his report.

The cache of documents Manning allegedly leaked to WikiLeaks revealed information about the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and steps taken to cover up the alleged crimes, the suspect intelligence the US relied upon to continue holding detainees at Guantanamo Bay and observations of US diplomats about foreign government officials.

Manning, 24, is facing 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. A trial date in his general court-martial has not yet been set. The next hearing in his case is scheduled for March 15-16. On Monday, the National Press Club and 46 other media organizations sent a letter to Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson calling for more transparency during court-martial proceedings, particularly Manning's.

Separately, in his report to the UN General Assembly documenting alleged human rights abuses around the world, Méndez said the US has yet to respond to an August 19, 2011 “communication” he sent “regarding the allegations of torture and ill-treatment in immigration facilities.”

“According to the information received, 16 gay and transgender individuals have allegedly been subjected to solitary confinement, torture and ill-treatment while in detention in US immigration facilities,” states Méndez's report in which he called on US government officials to launch an investigation. “Furthermore, there was reportedly a lack of protection from persecution and respect for the principle of non-refoulement for those who risk torture if returned to their home countries on account of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.”

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