By the extreme standards set by the War on Terror, Bradley Manning was not technically "tortured." His treatment – isolation, suicide watch, minimal exercise – was arguably, and unfortunately, not much different from what many prisoners endure throughout the American penal system, including those in pretrial detention. One editorial in the New York Daily News made note of this fact – "Hardly waterboarding," the paper said. "Hardly electrodes on the genitals. Hardly beatings. Hardly burns."
The real measure of torture, however, is far more nuanced. Manning was, if not officially, then effectively, in solitary confinement, which is perhaps the most devastating form of torture: designed to break the spirit and punish. By the winter of his incarceration, the lack of sunlight and clothing and ability to lie down or lean back like a normal human being – not to mention the daily humiliation of having to ask permission, in a sense, to publicly go to the bathroom – had taken its toll. His world was his cell. Gradually, Manning began to feel as if he were mentally slipping backward into "that lonely, dark, black hole of a place" he'd been at in Kuwait.
Seven months into his isolation, Manning told Master Sgt. Brian Papakie, the second in command of the brig, "I don't understand. I'm not doing anything to harm myself." And yet his appeals had gone nowhere. He ran down a list of ways he could hurt himself if he really wanted to: throwing himself against the wall, drowning his head in the toilet, jumping up and down until he had a heart attack. He'd done none of these. "If I really wanted to hurt myself, I could use my underwear or flip-flops."
To Manning, the comment was a moment of frustrated sarcasm. But to the Marines who ran the brig, it was a threat. That night, Manning was told to give up his underwear and flip-flops, as well as the rest of his clothes. He spent the night under his suicide blanket, naked.
Manning woke before reveille to find that his clothes, which were usually delivered to him on his feed tray, weren't there. He usually stood for the morning count in his boxers and shower shoes, a blanket wrapped around him. This morning, as even his underwear was missing, he'd have to stand without any clothes at all. He grabbed his blanket and attempted to put it in front of his genitals. "Is that how you stand at parade rest, Detainee Manning?" a guard barked at him.
Manning dropped the blanket and for the next three minutes stood stark naked, feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped behind his back, facing the entrance to his cell. As the duty brig supervisor made his rounds, Manning snapped to attention. The supervisor stopped, looked at him and moved on. Several minutes later, Manning was given back his prison uniform.
Manning was forced to relinquish his clothes for the next three nights. On March 4th, 2011, news of Manning's forced nudity had been leaked to The New York Times. When the piece reached the desk of Lt. Gen. Flynn, he felt blindsided. "It would be good to have the leadership have a heads-up on these things before they are read!" he furiously e-mailed Quantico's commander irate. However, Flynn didn't ask that Manning be given back his clothes. None of the senior brass, in fact, seemed concerned with Manning's treatment. From the MPs guarding the brig to officials at the Pentagon, the attitude was, as one former general notes, one of "callous indifference."
This, in many minds, underscores the dangers of officially sanctioned enhanced interrogation techniques. "In my view, the participation of the military in these confinement and interrogation procedures has had a very corrosive effect over time," says Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and psychiatrist who is a strong opponent of torture and other harsh interrogation practices. "I'm seeing these kinds of gratuitous and directionless, malicious acts and attitudes for no particular purpose. It shocks me."
The former chief prosecutor of the Guantánamo military commissions, retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, agrees: "This whole 'gloves off, you're either with us or with the terrorists' attitude that percolated down from the president to the privates on the front lines undermined the foundations of our military." The question today is whether these practices, which Davis notes, "legitimized the unacceptable as the new normal," created a mentality that filtered down to affect other military detention procedures. "It becomes much easier to conduct or condone abusive treatment when you've spent years in an environment where everyone is either an 'us' or a 'them,'" Davis says, "and where 'by any means necessary' is the baseline."
The U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, would ultimately conclude that the U.S. government was guilty of "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" toward Bradley Manning. A similar conclusion was drawn by some 250 prominent lawyers, law professors and legal scholars, including Obama's longtime mentor and former adviser, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who in April 2011 signed a letter published in The New York Review of Books denouncing Manning's treatment as "illegal and immoral," violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth Amendment's ban against pretrial punishment. They also offered a stinging reproach to President Obama, who, they noted, "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."
On April 20th, 2011, after months of public pressure and negative press, Bradley Manning was transferred to the Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where, after an extensive interview with the base's mental-health counselors, he was placed in medium custody. After nearly a year of isolation, he would serve out the rest of his pretrial detention with inmates to talk to, housed in an 80-square-foot cell, with a large window providing natural light, a bed and a toilet. He was given a mattress, sheets and a pillow. He could write letters whenever he wanted and was given back all of his personal effects: books, clothing, letters, legal materials, pens, paper, toiletry items – including soap, toilet paper and a razor – and his clothes. In December, during her testimony at his pretrial detention hearing, the commander of the Joint Regional Correctional Facility, Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton, stated that since he arrived at Leavenworth, Manning has exhibited no significant mental-health or behavioral issues. She described him as a "typical" detainee.
Manning's pretrial detention hearing last December went on for nearly three weeks. On January 8th, 2013, Col. Denise Lind, the military judge who is hearing Manning's case at Fort Meade, ruled that a portion of his treatment at Quantico was "excessive" and did amount to illegal pretrial punishment. Lind gave Manning less than four months off his eventual sentence, but she did not throw out the case as his lawyers had requested. This ruling, though offering a small victory for the defense, served to uphold the government's central argument that whatever Manning may have endured at Quantico was justified in service to the far more important goal of keeping him alive so he could stand trial.
On June 3rd of this year, Manning is scheduled to return to Col. Lind's courtroom, where, after repeated delays, he will finally begin court-martial proceedings. Now 25 years old, he will by then have been in detention for more than 1,000 days – long enough, his attorney has argued, for the Empire State Building, which took only 410 days to construct, to be built, torn down and built again. Manning's defense believes that the sheer amount of time he has been in detention violates the speedy-trial rule, an argument that, so far, has gone nowhere. Nor has the defense's insistence that Manning's idealistic intent – not to mention the fact that he had held back truly "sensitive documents," leaking only those he felt would do no harm – be taken into consideration when considering his guilt. The even broader question of whether the documents he leaked should ever have been "classified" at all, a conversation Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense, told me is vital for the country to have, will also not be discussed at trial.
Last November, Manning offered to plead guilty to a subset of the charges, effectively accepting responsibility for being the source of the WikiLeaks documents, though not conceding he aided the enemy. Judge Lind has impressed upon the government its burden to prove that Manning knew, conclusively, that he was aiding Al Qaeda when he leaked the documents. Without this proof, which many legal experts say may be tough to establish, the aiding-the-enemy charge will likely fall apart.
The other charges against Manning, however, will likely stand. The government's case is built on some 300,000 pages of forensic evidence: a gigantic trove that prosecutors say details, down to the minute, Manning's activities. The chat logs between Manning and the entity believed to be Julian Assange – in which the two discuss the procedures for uploading classified materials to WikiLeaks – may be particularly damning in what many believe is a Justice Department campaign to indict Assange for espionage.
Later this year, the American government's long campaign against Bradley Manning will conclude with a probable judgment that will send him to prison for decades, if not for the rest of his life. Like all the hearings before it, his trial will take place under a thick cloak of secrecy, monitored by military censors, with no public access to court documents, and covered by a sparse and largely independent media. The larger news outlets, like much of the American public, have long moved on from the WikiLeaks saga – just as they lost interest in the war whose abuses Manning exposed. On December 18th, 2011, the last 500 U.S. troops quietly left Iraq, ending an almost nine-year military engagement.
But for Manning, the war, and its consequences, must live on. "We're human and we're killing ourselves and no one seems to see that," Manning wrote Lamo in one of their online chats. "It bothers me." He then referenced author Elie Wiesel, whose belief that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference hit home. "Apathy is far worse than the active participation," said Manning. "I prefer a painful truth to any blissful fantasy."
This story is from the March 14th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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