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Psychologists protest ‘inhumane, harmful’ treatment of Bradley Manning

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A psychologists’ group has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him to “rectify the inhumane, harmful, and counterproductive treatment” of the Army private accused of being WikiLeaks’ source for the US State Department cables.

In a letter dated Monday, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) argued that PFC Bradley Manning, who has been held in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico for the past five months, may be the victim of political retribution. The group also suggested that the psychological damage Manning may be suffering from spending 23 hours a day alone may ruin his bid for a fair trial.

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“History suggests that solitary confinement, rather than being a rational response to a risk, is more often used as a punishment for someone who is considered to be a member of a despised or ‘dangerous’ group,” the letter stated. “In any case, PFC Manning has not been convicted of a crime and, under our system of justice, is at this point presumed to be innocent.”

Manning is alleged to have been the source of the 250,000 US State Department cables that WikiLeaks began publishing in late November. He is also alleged to have been the source of the “collateral murder” video that showed civilians and two Reuters reporters being killed in a 2007 US air raid in Baghdad.

Manning’s treatment came to light in an article by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald last month, prompting many activist groups to speak out in favor of the Army private who has become a folk hero to some and an enemy of the state to others.

According to his lawyer, Manning is not allowed to have personal items in his cell, has no contact with other prisoners, has no access to sheets or a pillow, and is allowed to “exercise” one hour a day, meaning he is allowed to go for a walk. It’s all part of a “prevention of injury” order placed on Manning that his defenders say is unnecessary, as he has shown no signs of violent behavior or suicidal tendencies.

While brig officials have defended Manning’s treatment as necessary because he is seen as a national security risk, PsySR argued in its letter than “no such putative risk can justify keeping someone not convicted of a crime in conditions likely to cause serious harm to his mental health.”

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The group cited a long history of research showing that prolonged exposure to solitary confinement can lead to mental breakdown and even suicide.

PsySR also subtly hinted at an ulterior motive for Manning’s detention, suggesting that the solitary confinement may be meant to break Manning’s spirit so that he agrees to give “false testimony.”

“Coercive conditions of detention also increase the likelihood of the prisoner ‘cooperating’ in order to improve those circumstances, even to the extent of giving false testimony,” the letter stated. “Thus, such harsh conditions are counter to the interests of justice.”

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That appears to be a veiled reference to speculation that the US may want Manning to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whom the US government is reportedly contemplating charging with conspiracy to steal classified documents.

Solitary confinement has been used in US prisons since the 19th century, but has become more prevalent with the rise of for-profit Supermax prisons in recent years. Studies have found that, depending on the prison, anywhere from 0.5 percent of US prisoners to 20 percent of prisoners are kept in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement.

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The PsySR letter notes that the UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concerns about the use of solitary confinement in US prisons, and notes that, unlike Supermax prisoners, Manning has not been convicted of any crime.

As Manning’s public profile grows more prominent, activist groups have been organizing to oppose his treatment at Quantico. Anti-war group Code Pink has launched a petition asking for “humane” treatment for the private, while Courage to Resist has organized a defense fund for him.

A group calling itself the Bradley Manning Support Network has launched a blog to keep the public informed of developments in Manning’s case. Among the group’s advisory board members are filmmaker Michael Moore, activist and former CIA operative Ray McGovern, and Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower behind the Pentagon papers who has compared the plight of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to his own.

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