After ruling last week that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was subjected to overly restrictive confinement at a Marine Corps brig, a military judge postponed proceedings in Manning's court-martial until June. The Army should use that delay to consider a plea arrangement in which the accused leaker of vast amounts of classified information would receive significant prison time but not the life sentence associated with the most serious charge against him.
Manning, a 25-year-old former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has been accused of providing WikiLeaks with more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and thousands of military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. To his supporters, Manning is a whistle-blower to be honored — perhaps with a Nobel Peace Prize — for disseminating material such as a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack that killed 12 civilians in Baghdad. To the Army and the Obama administration, he is an insubordinate soldier whose reckless disgorging of classified information undermined national security and the conduct of diplomacy. Some argue that Manning is neither hero nor villain, just an immature young man with poor judgment and a propensity for self-dramatization.
Whatever one thinks of Manning, he was entitled to humane treatment once he was arrested. In fact, his imprisonment in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., in 2010 and 2011 was cruel and degrading. Officials acknowledged in court that Manning was kept in a windowless cell for 23 hours a day and sometimes stripped of his clothes, supposedly to prevent him from hurting himself or others. The judge, Col. Denise Lind, concluded that his confinement had been "more rigorous than necessary" and as compensation she shaved 112 days from any prison sentence he would receive if convicted.