In May 2010, Private First Class Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq on suspicion of passing classified information to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. In July of that year he was transferred to the United States and put into solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia.

The information that he is alleged to have leaked has exposed official malfeasance and war crimes, including the casual slaughter of civilians, committed by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In response to his exemplary courage and service to the ideals of transparency and democracy, the Unites States government has charged him with over twenty crimes, carrying penalties up to and including death.

While in custody, he has been subjected to immoral and degrading treatment. His status as a “maximum custody detainee” allows him to be held in solitary confinement for twenty three hours out of every day. He is allowed one hour of supervised exercise a day, during which he is permitted to walk around a room. At all other times he sits alone in his cell. His bed has no pillow or sheets.

It is recognized that extended periods of isolation such as one would experience in solitary confinement are tantamount to torture. Glenn Greenwald, whose article on Manning’s treatment can be viewed here, has collected the opinions of several experts: according to an article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry, “solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.” In 2006, the National Commission on America’s Prisons published a report stating that “prisoners end up locked in their cells 23 hours a day, every day… is so severe that people end up completely isolated, living in what can only be described as torturous conditions.” John McCain, who endured solitary confinement as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said, “it’s an awful thing, solitary. It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” In order to counteract the psychological effects of his confinement, Manning’s guards have forcibly injected him with psychiatric medication, in spite of the opinion of psychiatrists that have seen him that he is in otherwise perfect mental health. Both the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the Irish Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act of 2000 recognize the intentional infliction of mental suffering to be a form of torture.

The army has attempted to justify this and other punitive measures by saying that he is a suicide risk and has therefore been placed on a Prevention of Injury order. In March 2011 David Coombs, his military defense counsel, sent a letter signed by Manning to the U.S. military. In it Manning describes the arbitrary and unjust treatment he received. He tells how, after receiving a clean bill of mental health from the brig psychiatrist, he was kept on a Prevention of Injury status, unlike other detainees who are soon transferred out of solitary confinement and have other restrictions removed.

Manning is allowed to have one book in his cell at a time, but no pens or pencils. This is ostensibly to prevent him from harming himself. At one point his guards took his glasses, leaving him to sit alone “in essential blindness.” After an incident in March of this year, during which he tried to point out the absurdity of the Prevention of Injury order, saying that if he really wanted to hurt himself he could conceivably do it with the waste-band of his underwear, the brig guards have taken all his clothes every night. He is required to sleep naked in his empty cell and stand naked outside it in the morning, in full view of the other detainees.

The aim of these degrading measures, apart from the amusement of the guards involved, seems to be Manning’s utter humiliation. His defense is of the opinion that they constitute cruel and unusual punishment, against which the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture afford protection.

Sources within Obama’s administration also objected to Manning’s treatment. Philip J. Crowley, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, called it “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Three days later he resigned. Obama, meanwhile, upheld the legitimacy of the treatment when questioned: “I actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are.” This makes a mockery of his supposed commitment to ending torture and demonstrates his complicity in the mistreatment of Bradley Manning.