Ten months after he was arrested for allegedly leaking classified material, including diplomatic cables, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was very much in the news this week—with the military bringing twenty-two new charges against him, including "aiding the enemy" (enemy unspecified), and stripping him naked for seven hours at the prison every night (a policy to be continued "indefinitely," they announced Friday). His supporters and attorney David Coombs charge that the conditions of his confinement are overly harsh and punitive, while the Pentagon continues to deny that.
With Manning gaining wide attention now, it’s worth recalling that three months ago he was largely forgotten. How did so much change? Here’s some background if you have just tuned into Manning’s case recently:
Even amid the vast Cablegate coverage, as I trace in my new book The Age of WikiLeaks, Manning got little notice, although the blog FireDogLake kept on the case. Then, on December 15, Glenn Greenwald at Salon delivered a strong piece on Manning’s “inhumane detention.”
He charged that the conditions constituted “cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.” (A key point: The private has not yet been convicted of anything.)
Liberal blogs highlighted Greenwald’s piece and two days later the Guardian carried a report on Manning’s health “deteriorating.” He was subject to some form of suicide watch, but it seemed to his attorney more punitive than necessary.
On December 19, Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, supplied some fresh details: “PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately twenty-three hours a day. The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay. He receives each of his meals in his cell. He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets.”
The same day, NBC Nightly News paid a visit to Manning’s hometown in Oklahoma. A former Marine there said he should be executed. Others were not much more sympathetic. Lester Holt, the correspondent, suggested that some felt that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy then in effect might have contributed to Manning’s decision to break ranks.