Mainstream Media's Sparse Coverage of Bradley Manning Hearings

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Government Accountability Project

Mainstream Media's Sparse Coverage of Bradley Manning Hearings

One of the most important trials of the decade is unfolding just outside of Washington, D.C. at Ft. Meade, MD: the court martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning for allegedly disclosing information to Wikileaks.

Typically, the only reporters consistently attending and covering the dramatic pre-trial proceedings have been far outside the MSM. Alexa O'Brien, Kevin Gosztola, and Nathan Fuller have provided excellent and critically important coverage of Manning's secretive pre-trial proceedings, but major national newspapers have afforded the hearings limited summary attention at best. Now that Manning has been testifying about his abhorrent pre-trial confinement conditions, some in the MSM have woken up, but only to do brief stories that usually rely heavily on the Associate Press reports rather than doing their own independent investigating.

The MSM reports tend to sanitize Manning's treatment in pre-trial confinement conditions, and do little to explain what it means to be kept in a cell 23 hours a day, only being allowed out for 20 minutes of "sunshine time" during which guards would escort a shackled Manning around an exercise yard.

When the MSM describes "pre-trial detention," substitute "solitary confinement." Manning – an American citizen yet to be tried or convicted of any crimes--was held in his cell, sometimes naked, for 23 hours a day despite the fact that all of his psychologists (plural) believed the confinement conditions to be totally unnecessary and actually detrimental to Manning's mental and physical health.

From testimony over the weekend, we learned that the military leadership and guards at Quanico – who had no medical training or degrees – substituted their judgment for that of multiple trained psychologists so that they could keep Manning on an unnecessary, punitive "suicide watch" or "prevention of injury" (POI) status. [Note how in Orwellian fashion, the names for this type of confinement suggest that it was being done for Manning's own good.] Their amateur judgments were based on things like rumors about Manning's sexual orientation or "observations" that Manning was not talkative enough, despite a rule that Manning could only talk at a "conversation volume level" to other detainees, who were too far away to hear anything Manning said at a "conversational volume level." Yet the leadership at Quantico relied on the guards' and amateur "counselors" armchair-diagnoses rather than the well-informed opinions of multiple well-credentialed psychiatrists, all of whom agreed that Manning did not need to be on POI status.

I explained in detail over the weekend precisely how Manning's pre-trial confinement conditions violated basic human rights standards.

Solitary confinement is strictly prohibited under international law. It is a cruel practice that causes permanent psychological damage. The impacts can range from hallucinations, emotional damage, delusions and impaired cognitive functioning to anxiety and depression--the very reasons Manning was initially put in solitary in the first place. Solitary confinement is outlawed under the Convention Against Torture, ICCPR and the Geneva Conventions.

Manning was in solitary confinement in Kuwait and Quantico for nine months. He was in a cage (Kuwait) or a small, windowless cell for 23 hours a day. He was given 20 minutes of "sunshine call" each day, during which he could "walk" figure eights in restraints with guards holding him up. Eventually, he received 1 hour of recreation per day--still woefully below legal standards. One of his treating military psychologists, Col. Rick Malone, much to his credit, testified that:

The way he was being held was detrimental to his physical and mental health. His custody status was a stressor . . . He was taken off medications after several weeks because he was symptom-free. . .in complete remission . . .and posed no harm to himself or others.

The abusive pre-trial confinement conditions make Manning's case more than just another whistleblower prosecution under the draconian Espionage Act--a phenomenon threatening enough to our democracy. Manning's treatment reversed the usual presumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty and punished Manning for a crime he had yet to be even tried for, let alone found guilty.

I'll be at All Souls Church in NW Washington tonight to hear Manning's attorney David Coombs' first-ever public presentation on the case. Anyone sharing my outrage about Manning's pre-trial confinement conditions should attend.

Jesselyn Radack

Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

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