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Bradley Manning Torture – Obama Ignores Criticism by UN Rapporteur and 300 Legal Experts

Alex Constantine - April 26, 2011

By Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK).

Eurasia Review | April 13, 2011

bradley manning 1 - Bradley Manning Torture - Obama Ignores Criticism by UN Rapporteur and 300 Legal ExpertsBradley Manning

In the ongoing scandal regarding the treatment of Pfc Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower responsible for leaking a treasure trove of classified US documents to WikiLeaks, who has been held since last July in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, a slowly building body of criticism turned into a torrent of indignation early last month, when it was revealed that, as well as being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and checked every five minutes under a “Prevention of Injury” (PoI) order, Manning is also stripped naked every night (apart from a smock) and is made to stand naked outside his cell every morning as the cells are inspected.

In a legal letter to the US authorities, which was released by his lawyer a month ago, Manning described his conditions of confinement in his own words, which were reported in the Guardian as follows:

[Manning explained] how he was placed on suicide watch for three days from 18 January. “I was stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness.”

Manning writes that he believes the suicide watch was imposed not because he was a danger to himself but as retribution for a protest about his treatment held outside Quantico the day before. Immediately before the suicide watch started, he said guards verbally harassed him, taunting him with conflicting orders.

When he was told he was being put on suicide watch, he writes, “I became upset. Out of frustration, I clenched my hair with my fingers and yelled: ‘Why are you doing this to me? Why am I being punished? I have done nothing wrong.’”

He also describes the experience of being stripped naked at night and made to stand for parade in the nude, a condition that continues to this day. “The guard told me to stand at parade rest, with my hands behind my back and my legs spaced shoulder-width apart. I stood at parade rest for about three minutes … The [brig supervisor] and the other guards walked past my cell. He looked at me, paused for a moment, then continued to the next cell. I was incredibly embarrassed at having all these people stare at me naked.”

In the letter, Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, also included excerpts from the brig’s observation records, in which it is repeatedly stated that Manning is “respectful, courteous and well spoken” and that he “does not have any suicidal feelings at this time”. Coombs also noted that, in 16 entries between August last year and January this year, Manning “was evaluated by prison psychiatrists who found he was not a danger to himself and should be removed from the PoI order.”

In response to this clear abuse, critics began to emerge from unusual places. State Department P.J. Crowley, for example, was obliged to resign after he publicly complained that the Pentagon’s handling of Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” and this week nearly 300 of what the Guardian described as “America’s most eminent legal scholars” (plus other leading academics) have signed a letter complaining about Manning’s treatment. Initiated on the blog Balkinization, and written by two distinguished law professors, Bruce Ackerman of Yale and Yochai Benkler of Harvard, the complaint (published in full below) states that the “degrading and inhumane conditions” to which Pfc Manning is being subjected are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

As the Guardian reported, they “claim Manning’s reported treatment is a violation of the US constitution, specifically the Eighth Amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment that prevents punishment without trial,” and, “in a stinging rebuke to Obama,” state that “he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency.”

The complaint has been published in the New York Review of Books, and its signatories include Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor “considered to be America’s foremost liberal authority on constitutional law,” who “taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.” Other signatories include Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Bill Clinton’s former labour secretary Robert Reich, President Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great-grandson Kermit Roosevelt, and Norman Dorsen, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tribe, who joined the Obama administration last year as a legal adviser in the Justice Department, but who left his post three months ago, told the Guardian that the treatment of Manning was objectionable “in the way it violates his person and his liberty without due process of law and in the way it administers cruel and unusual punishment of a sort that cannot be constitutionally inflicted even upon someone convicted of terrible offences, not to mention someone merely accused of such offences.”

Yochai Benkler also spoke to the Guardian, stating, “It is incumbent on us as citizens and professors of law to say that enough is enough. We cannot allow ourselves to behave in this way if we want America to remain a society dedicated to human dignity and process of law.” Adding that Manning’s conditions were being used “as a warning to future whistleblowers,” he also said, “I find it tragic that it is Obama’s administration that is pursuing whistleblowers and imposing this kind of treatment.”

As well as alienating nearly 300 legal experts, President Obama has also angered the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, who, as the Guardian explained, “issued a rare reprimand to the US government on Monday for failing to allow him to meet in private Bradley Manning,” which is “the kind of censure the UN normally reserves for authoritarian regimes around the world.”

Professor Mendez said, “I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr Manning.” He added, “I am acting on a complaint that the regimen of this detainee amounts to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or torture,” but “until I have all the evidence in front of me, I cannot say whether he has been treated inhumanely.”

Professor Mendez also explained that:

[T]he vast majority of states allowed for visits to detainees without conditions. But the US department of defence would not allow him to make an “official” visit, only a “private” one. An official visit would mean he meets Manning without a guard. A private visit means with a guard. Also, anything the prisoner says could be used in a court-martial.

Adding that his mandate was “to conduct unmonitored visits,” Professor Mendez also stated, “I am insisting the US government lets me see him without witnesses. I am asking [the US government] to reconsider.”

In conclusion (as the pressure will no doubt continue to mount against President Obama, who has tried and failed to wash his hands of responsibility for Pfc Manning’s treatment), I’m cross-posting below the complaint by Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler, as promised:


Private Manning’s Humiliation

By Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler

Bradley Manning is the soldier charged with leaking U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. He is currently detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.

For nine months, Manning has been confined to his cell for 23 hours a day. During his one remaining hour, he can walk in circles in another room, with no other prisoners present. He is not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, but must answer the question “Are you OK?” verbally and in the affirmative every five minutes. At night, he is awakened to be asked again, “are you OK” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket so that the guards cannot see his face. During the past week he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes.

The sum of the treatment that has been widely reported is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial. If continued, it may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture, defined as, among other things, “the administration or application … of … procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”

Private Manning has been designated as an appropriate subject for both Maximum Security and Prevention of Injury (POI) detention. But he asserts that his administrative reports consistently describe him as a well-behaved prisoner who does not fit the requirements for Maximum Security detention. The Brig psychiatrist began recommending his removal from Prevention of Injury months ago. These claims have not been publicly contested. In an Orwellian twist, the spokesman for the brig commander refused to explain the forced nudity “because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.”

The Administration has provided no evidence that Manning’s treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates. Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.

If Manning is guilty of a crime, let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law. But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is no excuse for his degrading and inhumane pre-trial punishment. As the State Department’s PJ Crowley put it recently, they are “counterproductive and stupid.” And yet Crowley has now been forced to resign for speaking the plain truth.

The WikiLeaks disclosures have touched every corner of the world. Now the whole world watches America and observes what it does; not what it says.

President Obama was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as Commander in Chief meets fundamental standards of decency. He should not merely assert that Manning’s confinement is “appropriate and meet[s] our basic standards,” as he did recently. He should require the Pentagon publicly to document the grounds for its extraordinary actions — and immediately end those which cannot withstand the light of day.


Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School
Yochai Benkler, Harvard Law School

Additional Signatories (institutional affiliation, for identification purposes only):

Jack Balkin, Yale Law School
Richard L. Abel, UCLA Law
David Abrams, Harvard Law School
Martha Ackelsberg, Smith College
Julia Adams, Sociology, Yale University
Kirsten Ainley, London School of Economics
Jeffrey Alexander, Yale University
Philip Alston, NYU School of Law
Anne Alstott, Harvard Law School
Elizabeth Anderson, Philosophy and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan
Kevin Anderson, University of California
Scott Anderson, Philosophy, University of British Columbia
Claudia Angelos, NYU School of Law
Donald K. Anton. Australian National University College of Law
Joyce Appleby, History, UCLA
Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University
Stanley Aronowitz, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, social psychologist, Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony
Reuven Avi-Yonah, University of Michigan Law
H. Robert Baker, Georgia State University
Katherine Beckett, University of Washington
Duncan Bell, Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
Steve Berenson, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Michael Bertrand, UNC Chapel Hill
Christoph Bezemek, Public Law, Vienna University of Economics and Business
Michael J. Bosia, Political Science, Saint Michael’s College
Bret Boyce, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
Rebecca M. Bratspies, CUNY School of Law
Jason Brennan, Philosophy, Brown University
Talbot Brewer, Philosophy, University of Virginia
John Bronsteen, Loyola University Chicago
Peter Brooks, Princeton University
James Robert Brown, University of Toronto
Sande L. Buhai, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Ahmed I Bulbulia, Seton Hall Law School
Susannah Camic, University of Wisconsin Law School
Lauren Carasik, Western New England College School of Law
Teri L. Caraway, University of Minnesota
Alexander M. Capron, University of Southern California, Gould School of Law
Michael W. Carroll, Law American University
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Ph.D, Foreign Service Officer, retired
Jonathan Chausovsky, Political Science, SUNY-Fredonia
Carol Chomsky, University of Minnesota Law School
John Clippinger, Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Andrew Jason Cohen, Georgia State University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Marjorie Cohn, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Doug Colbert, Maryland School of Law
Sheila Collins, William Paterson University
Nancy Combs, William& Mary Law School
Stephen A. Conrad, Indiana University Mauer School of Law
Steve Cook, Philosophy, Utica College
Robert Crawford, Arts and Sciences, University of Washington
Thomas P. Crocker, University of South Carolina
Jennifer Curtin, UCI School of Medicine
Deryl D. Dantzler, Walter F. Gorge School of Law of Mercer University
Benjamin G. Davis, University of Toledo College of Law
Rochelle Davis, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Wolfgang Deckers, Richmond University, London
Michelle M. Dempsey, Villanova University School of Law
Wai Chee Dimock, English, Yale University
Sinan Dogramaci, Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin
Zayd Dohrn, Northwestern University
Jason P. Dominguez, Texas Southern University
Judith Donath, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Norman Dorsen, New York University School of Law
Michael W. Doyle, International Affairs, Law and Political Science, Columbia
Bruce T. Draine, Astrophysics, Princeton University
Jay Driskell, History, Hood College
Michael C. Duff, University of Wyoming College of Law
Lisa Duggan, Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU
Stephen M. Engel, PhD, Political Science, Marquette University
Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Graduate Center,CUNY
Simon Evnine, Philosophy, University of Miami
Mark Fenster, Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Martha Field, Harvard Law School
Justin Fisher, Philosophy, Southern Methodist University
William Fisher, Harvard Law School
Joseph Fishkin, University of Texas School of Law
Mark Fishman, Sociology, Brooklyn College
Martin S. Flaherty, Fordham Law School
George P. Fletcher, Columbia University, School of Law
John Flood, Law and Sociology, University of Westminster
Michael Forman, University of Washington Tacoma
Bryan Frances, Philosophy, Fordham University
Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School
Nancy Fraser, Philosophy and Politics, New School for Social Research
Eric M. Freedman, Hofstra Law School
Monroe H. Freedman, Hofstra University Law School
Kennan Ferguson, University of Wisconsin, MilWaukee
John R. Fitzpatrick, Philosophy, University of Tennessee/Chattanooga
A. Michael Froomkin, University of Miami School of Law
Gerald Frug, Harvard Law School
Louis Furmanski, University of Central Oklahoma
James K. Galbraith, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin
Herbert J Gans, Columbia University
William Gardner, Pediatrics, Psychology,& Psychiatry, The Ohio State University
Urs Gasser, Harvard Law School, Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Julius G. Getman, University of Texas Law School
Todd Gitlin, Columbia University
Bob Goodin, Australian National University
Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, Human Rights, University of Washington
David Golove, NYU School of Law
James R. Goetsch Jr., Philosophy, Eckerd College
Thomas Gokey, Art and Information Studies, Syracuse University
Robert W. Gordon, Yale Law School
Stephen E. Gottlieb, Albany Law School
Mark A. Graber, University of Maryland School of Law
Jorie Graham, Harvard University
Roger Green, Pol. Sci. and Pub. Admin., Florida Gulf Coast
Daniel JH Greenwood, Hofstra University School of Law
Christopher L. Griffin, Visiting, Duke Law School
James Grimmelmann, New York Law School
James Gronquist, Charlotte School of Law
Jean Grossholtz, Politics, Mount Holyoke College
Lisa Guenther, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University
Christopher Guzelian, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Gillian K. Hadfield, Law, Economics, University of Southern California
Jonathan Hafetz, Seton Hall University School of Law
Lisa Hajjar, University of California – Santa Barbara
Susan Hazeldean, Robert M. Cover Fellow, Yale Law School
Dirk t. D. Held, Classics, Connecticut College
Kevin Jon Heller, Melbourne Law School
Lynne Henderson, UNLV–Boyd School of Law (emerita)
Stephen Hetherington, Philosophy, University of New South Wales
Kurt Hochenauer, University of Central Oklahoma
Lonny Hoffman, Univ of Houston Law Center
Michael Hopkins, MHC International Ltd
Nathan Robert Howard, St. Andrews
Marc Morjé Howard, Government, Georgetown University
Kyron Huigens, Cardozo School of Law
Alexandra Huneeus, University of Wisconsin Law School
David Ingram, Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago
David Isenberg, Isen.com
Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School
Christopher Jencks, Harvard Kennedy School
Paula Johnson, Alliant International University
Robert N. Johnson, Philosophy, University of Missouri
Albyn C. Jones, Statistics, Reed College
Lynne Joyrich, Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
David Kairys, Beasley Law School
Eileen Kaufman, Touro Law Center
Kevin B. Kelly, Seton Hall University School of Law
Antti Kauppinen, Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin
Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School
Daniel Kevles, Yale University
Heidi Kitrosser, University of Minnesota Law School
Gillian R. Knapp, Princeton University
Seth F. Kreimer, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Alex Kreit, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Stefan H. Krieger, Hofstra University School of Law
Mitchell Lasser, Cornell Law School
Mark LeBar, Philosophy, Ohio University
Brian Leiter, University of Chicago
Mary Clare Lennon, Sociology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
George Levine, Rutgers University
Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School
Margaret Levi, Pol. Sci., University of Washington and University of Sydney
Tracy Lightcap, Political Science, LaGrange College
Daniel Lipson, Political Science, SUNY New Paltz
Stacy Litz, Drexel University
Fiona de Londras, University College Dublin, Ireland
John Lunstroth, University of Houston Law Center
David Luban, Georgetown University Law Center
Peter Ludlow, Philosophy, Northwestern University
Cecelia Lynch, University of California
David Lyons, Boston University
Colin Maclay, Harvard University, Berkman Center
Joan Mahoney, Emeritus, Wayne State University Law School
Chibli Mallat, Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School
Phil Malone, Harvard Law School
Jane Mansbridge, Harvard Kennedy School
Jeff Manza, Sociology, New York University
Dan Markel, Florida State University
Daniel Markovits, Yale Law School
Richard Markovits, University of Texas Law School
Michael R. Masinter, Nova Southeastern University
Ruth Mason, University of Connecticut School of Law
Rachel A. May, University of South Florida
Jamie Mayerfeld, Political Science, University of Washington
Diane H. Mazur, University of Florida Levin College of Law
Jason Mazzone, Brooklyn Law School
Jeff McMahan, Philosophy, Rutgers University
Richard J. Meagher Jr., Randolph-Macon College
Agustín José Menéndez, Universidad de León and University of Oslo
Hope Metcalf, Yale Law School
Frank I. Michelman, Harvard University
Gary Minda, Brooklyn Law School
John Mikhail, Georgetown University Law Center
Gregg Miller, Political Science, University of Washington
Eben Moglen, Columbia Law School and Software Freedom Law Center
Immanuel Ness, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Charles Nesson, Harvard University
Joel Ngugi, Law, African Studies, University of Washington
Ralitza Nikolaeva, ISCTE Business School, Lisbon University Institute
John Palfrey, Harvard Law School
James Paradis, Comparative Media Studies, MIT
Emma Perry, London School of Economics and Political Science
Charles Pigden, University of Otago
Adrian du Plessis, Wolfson College, Cambridge University
Patrick S. O’Donnell, Philosophy, Santa Barbara City College
Hans Oberdiek, Philosophy, Swarthmore College
Duane Oldfield, Political Science, Knox College
Michael Paris, Political Science, The College of Staten Island (CUNY)
Philip Pettit, University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton
Frank A. Pasquale, Seton Hall Law School
Matthew Pierce, University of North Carolina
Charles Pigden, Philosophy, University of Otago
Leslie Plachta, MD MPH, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Thomas Pogge, Yale University
Giovanna Pompele, University of Miami
Joel Pust, Philosophy, University of Delaware
Ulrich K. Preuss, Law& Politics, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin
Margaret Jane Radin, University of Michigan and emerita, Stanford University
Aziz Rana, Cornell University Law School
Gustav Ranis, Yale University
Rahul Rao, School of Oriental& African Studies, University of London
Calair Rasmussen, Affiliation: Political Science, University of Delaware
Daniel Ray, Thomas M. Cooley Law School
Jeff A. Redding, Saint Louis University School of Law
C. D. C. Reeve, Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Bryan Register, Philosophy, Texas State University
Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley
Cassandra Burke Robertson, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
John A. Robertson, University of Texas Law School
Corey Robin, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center
Clarissa Rojas, CSU Long Beach
Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Susan Rose-Ackerman, Law, Political Science, Yale University
Norm Rosenberg, History, Macalester College
Clifford Rosky, University of Utah
Brad R. Roth, Poli. Sci. and Law, Wayne State University
Barbara Katz Rothman, Sociology, City University of New York
Bo Rothstein, Political Science, University of Gothenburg
Laura L. Rovner, University of Denver College of Law
Donald Rutherford, Philosophy, University of California, San Diego
Leonard Rubenstein, JD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Chester M. Rzadkiewicz, History, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
DeWitt Sage, Filmmaker
Cindy Skach, Comparative Government and Law, Oxford
William J. Talbott, Philosophy, University of Washington
Natsu Taylor Saito, Georgia State University College of Law
Dean Savage, Queens College, Sociology, CUNY
Kent D. Schenkel, New England Law
Kim Scheppele, Princeton Univeristy
Ben Schoenbachler, Psychiatry, University of Louisville
Jeffrey Schnapp, Harvard University
Kenneth Sherrill, Political Science, Hunter College
Claire Snyder-Hall, George Mason University
Jeffrey Selbin, Yale Law School
Wendy Seltzer, Fellow, Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy
Jose M. Sentmanat, Philosophy, Moreno Valley College, California
Omnia El Shakry, History, University of California
Scott Shapiro, Yale University
Stephen Sheehi, Languages, Lit. and Cultures, University of South Carolina
James Silk, Yale Law School
Robert D. Sloane, Boston University School of Law
Ronald C. Slye, Law, Seattle University
Matthew Noah Smith, Philosophy, Yale University
Stephen Samuel Smith, Political Science, Winthrop University
John M. Stewart, Emeritus, Psychology, Northland College
Peter G. Stillman, Vassar College
Alec Stone Sweet, Yale Law School
Robert N. Strassfeld, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, SUNY-Buffalo Law School
Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College of CUNY
Frank Thompson, University of Michigan
Matthew Titolo, West Virginia University College of Law
Massimo de la Torre, University of Hull Law School
John Torpey, CUNY Graduate Center
Vilna Bashi Treitler, Black& Hispanic Studies, Baruch College, City
Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard University
David M. Trubek, University of Wisconsin (emeritus)
Robert L. Tsai, American University, Washington College of Law
Peter Vallentyne, Philosophy, University of Missouri
Joan Vogel, Vermont Law School
Paul Voice, Philosophy, Bennington College
Victor Wallis, Berklee College of Music
David Watkins, Political Science, University of Dayton
Jonathan Weinberg, Wayne State University
Henry Weinstein, Law, Literary Journalism, University of California
Margaret Weir, Political Science,University of California, Berkeley
Christina E. Wells, University of Missouri School of Law
Danielle Wenner, Rice University
Bryan H. Wildenthal, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Langdon Winner, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Naomi Wolf, author
Lauris Wren, Hofstra Law School
Elizabeth Wurtzel, Attorney and author
Betty Yorburg, Emerita, City University of New York
Benjamin S. Yost, Philosophy, Providence College
Jonathan Zasloff, UCLA School of Law
Michael J. Zimmer, Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago
Lee Zimmerman, English, Hofstra University
Mary Marsh Zulack, Columbia Law School


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