From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
So as best I can tell Manning is, in fact, guilty of serious crimes. And unlike the nutty and dangerous effort to legally sanction Julian Assange for publishing leaks, I have no problem with the government punishing people who violate the terms of their classification status. But Manning hasn’t had a trial and hasn’t been convicted. Somewhat punitive post-arrest pre-trial measures are kind of a necessary evil, but the prolonged confinement of Manning under cruel conditions go well beyond the necessary into the straightforward evil.
Incidentally, I assume the majority of humanity, including many of the officials responsible for the conditions of Manning’s detention, haven’t read Atul Gawande’s brilliant March 2009 article on solitary confinement. But absolutely everybody should. It utterly transformed my conception of what it meant to hold someone in isolation like this, and makes the idea of doing it to someone who hasn’t even had his day in court seem completely outrageous.