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Soldier's inhumane imprisonment

Editorial

For five months, Pfc. Bradley Manning is confined to his cell for 23 hours a day, with no sheets and without exercise, while he awaits trial on charges of providing documents to WikiLeaks.

January 10, 2011

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst suspected of providing documents to WikiLeaks, can't reasonably complain that the military has him in custody. But the conditions under which he is being held at the Marine detention center at Quantico, Va., are so harsh as to suggest he is being punished for conduct of which he hasn't been convicted.

Manning has been charged with unlawfully downloading classified information and transmitting it "with reason to believe that the information could cause injury to the United States." He has been incarcerated at Quantico for five months and has yet to receive the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing.

Nevertheless, Manning is in "maximum custody." Also, under a "Protection of Injury" order, he is confined to his cell for 23 hours a day, even though his lawyer says a psychologist has determined he isn't a threat to himself. His lawyer also says that Manning is denied sheets and is unable to exercise in his cell, and that he is not allowed to sleep between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he is made to sit up or stand by his guards.

Some speculate that by treating Manning harshly, officials hope to induce him to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (though Assange would be subject to civilian, not military, justice). But a desire to secure his cooperation isn't a justification for protracted imprisonment under the conditions imposed on Manning.

The Pentagon said that a board will be convened to assess whether Manning suffers from a mental disease that made him unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions and whether he is competent to stand trial. That process brings Manning closer to a trial, but it doesn't guarantee that the conditions of his confinement will improve.

Manning's status is periodically reviewed. Ideally, the next review will confirm what seems obvious: that he doesn't pose a threat to himself or others and that his presence at future legal proceedings can be secured with a much more humane confinement. If the review doesn't lead to a change in Manning's treatment, the Pentagon should conduct its own inquiry.

Some see Manning as a whistle-blower who deserves leniency for exposing official duplicity; others believe that, like anyone who engages in civil disobedience, Manning, if guilty, should accept punishment for his actions. But regardless of one's view of his alleged conduct, the conditions under which he is being held are indefensible.

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