On Trial: The Treatment of Bradley Manning in Custody

by JoHarrington

With the United Nations condemning the USA for torturing one of its own citizens, something had to be done. In November 2012, an American courtroom heard the charges.

By the time the court was in session, Bradley Manning had been imprisoned for 916 days. Most of that was spent in solitary confinement in a tiny cell.

He had not been found guilty of any crime. His lawyers reported frequently being unable to gain access to him. The United Nation's Special Rapporteur was hindered in assessing Manning's condition. The UN Committee on Torture judged that the USA was breaking international law.

On November 27th 2012, a pre-trial to Manning's court martial met in Maryland to determine whether his situation will stop him ever legally being tried at all.

Tortuous Conditions for Private Manning at Quantico

Prior to any court martial of Bradley Manning, it first needs to be established if the US military were guilty of 'unlawful pre-trial punishment'.

When military lawyers and Manning's civilian defense met at Fort Meade, Maryland, it was not the first legal proceeding in the case. 

But it was the first time that Bradley Manning's own name had appeared on the witness schedule.

Until then, he had been kept out of sight (if not out of the public mind) in the brig, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia, USA. 

It was the conditions in which he was held there, which had prompted such a lashing from the United Nations. Under international law, it amounted to torture; and as signatories to the Convention Against Torture, the USA is not legally allowed to do that.

While a lot of American mainstream media seemed determined to frame Bradley Manning as a traitor to the nation, the way in which it played out lost a lot of credibility for the USA throughout the rest of the world.

It was a situation which proved unpalatable to some in the highest echelons of the US government. In April 2011, Chief spokesperson for the State Department, P.J. Crowley, resigned over the matter. He went on public record stating, "What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defense."

His immediate supervisor, Hilary Clinton, accepted the departure with regret, telling the press, "PJ has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian."

Shortly afterwards, nearly 300 academics - most of them top notch legal scholars - signed a review stating that, in their professional opinion, the treatment of Bradley Manning was unconstitutional. It breached the Eighth Amendment.

But none of this helped Private Bradley Manning, who was still on suicide watch in a 6 × 12ft cell. Where he had seen the sun for only 20 minutes during the previous nine months; and where he was stripped naked each night, standing with his legs apart, while a parade of guards walked by and inspected him.

It soon did indirectly help him though.  As media attention escalated in the other direction, bringing the US government and military under increasing pressure to stop being the bad guys, then Private Manning was moved.

Days later, he was transported to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, in Kansas, where he could enjoy a whole 80ft of space.  He was also finally allowed to mix with other prisoners.  Yet still there was no trial.

In the eyes of the law, Private Bradley Manning remains an innocent man, until proved guilty.

President Obama Declares Bradley Manning Guilty

Whatever happened to 'innocent until proved guilty'? Apparently it's no longer an issue in the United States of America.

Manning Pre-Trial at Fort Meade in November 2012

Bradley Manning has already been declared fit for trial. But now his lawyers are pushing hard to get all charges against him dropped.

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution reads:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

In 1972, it was established by legal precedent that the prosecution has to be 'ready for trial' in six months. The sole exception involves murder charges. If they're not, then the case is thrown out of court. The accused cannot be tried.

Even the most rabid of anti-Manning prosecutors would be hard pushed to accuse him of murder. There's some who take the view that he actually saved a whole lot of lives, particularly as a catalyst for the whole Arab Spring. 

The fact that he's waited two and a half years to even be heard, renders his incarceration unconstitutional under the Speedy Trial Clause attached to the Constitution's 6th amendment. At least that is what his lawyer, David Coombs, filed a motion claiming in September 2012.

The pre-trial at Fort Meade, which began on November 27th 2012, seeks to address that.

In addition, Private Manning offered to plead guilty to some of the lesser charges, in order to speed up the advent of his actual trial. 

Moreover, there are all of those charges against Manning's captors, both by the US academics and the United Nations.  As the former put it, '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.'

All of these things needed to be dealt with, before the court martial of Bradley Manning could go on.  This is what the pre-trial proceedings at Fort Meade, Maryland, are looking to evaluate.  If the ruling is in Manning's favor, he could walk away a free man.

Fort Meade Pre-Trial Explained

Josh Gerstein of POLITICO gives us the bottom line on the developments in Bradley Manning's case.

Latest News about Bradley Manning

Inside Toronto FC’s fractured culture: Insigne and Bernardeschi clashes, Bradley distrust  The Athletic
Bourne Valley heath fires: residents express anger at fires  Bournemouth Echo
Toronto FC looks for wins and some harmony as rocky season nears ...  The Globe and Mail
README.txt by Chelsea Manning review – the analyst who altered history  The Guardian

Day by Day Reports from the Bradley Manning Pre-Trial

A dentist provided the psychiatric report. Guards paraded to gawp at their naked detainee. A commander made up mocking Dr Seuss poetry. Just some of the pre-trial revelations.
One military psychiatrist judged Bradley Manning's treatment to be worse than at Guantanamo Bay. Another thought it worse than Death Row. They were both ignored.
Trapped in stifling conditions; denied information, even when moved in shackles on airplanes; kept blind and sleep deprived. Bradley Manning finally gives his testimony.
Conflicting commands meant that Manning could do nothing right; and guards removed from duty for intimidating him. More revelations from day five of the Fort Meade pre-trial.
Updated: 12/14/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/10/2012

That's likely to happen in March, unless it's determined that it can't go to trial after the end of this pre-trial.

I know that Manning's lawyer has said that military court is the best place for him. He reckons he will get a much fairer trial there than even in civilian courts.

I'm sorry to hear that this has brought your former colleagues into disrepute; but yes, it does appear that the whole world is judging this one (and the entire of the USA) accordingly.

teddletonmr on 12/10/2012

Reading this is unsettling to say the least. When I hear or read academics and the United Nations accusing the U.S. of war crimes and torturing prisoners I simply do not know what to think. As an ole jarhead myself, I remember the UCMJ (uniform code of military justice) being the law of which U.S. Marines actions be held to account.
Therefore, what or who is to render judgment is this more about one world government, or one Marine standing accused of high treason. I do agree, judgment of this case is long overdue…
The man is due is day in military court.

JoHarrington on 11/29/2012

It might be sophisticated, but it's not new. The Romans invented it. The first concentration camp was at Vindolanda, as part of Hadrian's Wall. It was used to house Britons. Bradley Manning is half Welsh, so his detention has a long historiography.

I'm also thinking of Gitmo.

HollieT on 11/29/2012

When I read this, I'm reminded of some of the prisoners of Gitmo, and those who had to bear control orders in the UK. To me, this is just a barbaric, yet at the same time sophisticated, way of suppressing the voices of dissent.

JoHarrington on 11/29/2012

There's a lot of talk at the moment about how military law and civil law are two totally different things. Yet they both have procedures. I should imagine that this high profile case is going to expose a lot of unsavory loopholes.

JoHarrington on 11/29/2012

We're into day three now. I will be writing some follow ups, but Bradley is yet to testify. So far it's been officers from the brig and a doctor. David Coombs is owning them.

Ember on 11/29/2012


Sadly, I almost totally forgot about this until I saw this article. :/

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