An alert reader called out attention to this letter by a group of law professors calling for a justification for the reported conditions of PFC Bradley Manning’s pretrial confinement conditions and termination of harsh conditions that can’t be justified.

I’m not in a position to draw any conclusions about the accuracy of the reports of PFC Manning’s conditions or justifications for his actual conditions.  But I have noted in the past that the facility where he is confined — the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico — had a pretrial confinee kill himself last January.  Some measures that seem excessively strict at first blush may seem less so if there are grounds to believe that PFC Manning may harm himself and that the measures are designed to avoid a repeat of what occurred last year.

I’ve also noted the absolutely guano crazy Harper’s Magazine piece by Scott Horton opining that rather than committing suicides in their cells, three Guantanamo detainees “most likely” actually died at ” previously unreported black site at Guantánamo” where, Horton specultes, they died under interrogation by the CIA in June 2006.  (There are so many problems with Horton’s piece, I won’t take the time to note them all.  But even if one is exceptionally conspiracy-minded and is prepared to casually suggest that the 50 or so U.S. military personnel who signed affidavits inconsistent with the wild conspiracy theory are perjurers, how does one explain why released Guantanamo detainees refer to the three detainees killing themselves if they were actually killed by U.S. intelligence agents?)  Unfortunately, some serious people who you would think would know better, such as Dahlia Lithwick, treated Horton’s piece as credible.  If Horton’s fantastic allegations could be treated seriously, can you imagine what the reaction would be if PFC Manning were to kill himself during pretrial confinement at the Quantico brig?  Without regard to any alleged specific condition of pretrial confinement, I can understand why officials at the Quantico brig might take extraordinary measures to ensure that PFC Manning doesn’t harm himself if there are any indications he might do so.

22 Responses to “Law professors’ letter regarding PFC Manning’s conditions of pretrial confinement”

  1. Personality Disorder Separation says:

    Well said, Mr. Sullivan. I think we’d likely be amazed at the methods prisoners use to kill themselves in confinement. The three Gitmo detainees, well…

    “They hung themselves with fabricated nooses made out of clothes and bedsheets.”
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/11/terror/main1700095.shtml

    Given Manning’s joke about hanging himself in his underwear – and knowing how prisoners can use anything to kill themselves – I can see the brig taking overly cautious and arguably over-the-top precautions to make sure he didn’t commit suicide. But they were nonetheless well-intentioned. It’s important to keep this all in perspective.

  2. Peanut Gallery says:

    I had completely forgotten about the Quantico brig suicide. It is an excellent point that too many in the media also appear to have forgotten.

  3. Charles Gittins says:

    On the Quantico Brig suicide issue . . . The Brig had plenty of warning that Webb was going to kill himself. They were reading both his incoming and outgoing mail and he was saying “good-by” to his family and making arrangements for disposition of his property. I have the JAGMAN and, while the IO didn’t find fault, he easily could have found incompetence alive and well at the Q brig if he had just been a little more critical of the evidence he was collecting.

  4. Stewie says:

    If there are grounds to believe Manning might hurt himself, then clearly he’s receiving psychiatric counseling, and the facility can point to a psychologist who would say he is a suicide risk, right?

    My understanding is that he is not on a formal suicide watch so this explanation that because someone else killed themselves that he thus must have the most “over the top” restrictions are belied somewhat by his status and lack of psychological counseling/treatment/status.

    It also doesn’t explain why this fear only manifests itself at night, he gets his clothes back during the day. Why is the fear lessened then?

  5. Rob M says:

    I think if he is seeing a psychologist, either self- or command-referred, that information might not be disclosed for privacy reasons. Not sure what the navy reg is, but Army requires any suicidal “ideations” (because for some reason I can’t remember now, we’re not allowed to call them suicidal thoughts) to be referred to a pshrink, command if not self, within a very short period of time. I’d assume the policies are similar. I’d guess you’re right that has happened, but probably wouldn’t be reported to the media.

  6. sg says:

    @Stewie,
    The guards watch Manning during the day.
    It’s dark at night. It’s harder to see him.

  7. John O'Connor says:

    When any issue arises in society, I say to myself, “We need to know what the law professors think about this.”

  8. Phil Cave says:

    Any news on the 138 complaint?

  9. Stewie says:

    yes sg, we have no lights, or other ability to watch someone in a tiny cell at night. And of course, undoubtedly he is watched every second during the day, like a starving hawk eyes its prey.

    I apologize if I am not as ready to simply assume everything is as it is said to be, on either side of this issue.

    Rob, I think I read on here roughly two weeks ago that he is not in fact seeing a psychologist or even on official suicide watch (but some lesser form of watch).

  10. Rob M says:

    Rob, I think I read on here roughly two weeks ago that he is not in fact seeing a psychologist or even on official suicide watch (but some lesser form of watch).

    I apologize if I am not as ready to simply assume everything is as it is said to be, on either side of this issue.

    It seems like the former is somewhat undercut by the latter.

  11. Stewie says:

    Rob, I was simply putting forward that I had read information that he wasn’t seeing a psychologist or on official suicide watch in response to your argument about why it might not be reported that he was seeing a psychologist if he was. Simply it is my understanding that the facility has explicitly said he is not on formal suicide watch or that he is formally seeing a psychologist to deal with suicidal ideations.

    That’s not an assumption, it’s my understanding of what the facts actually are based on what’s come from the facility (which of course could be a wrong understanding). That is not the same as assuming improper conduct has or has not occurred.

    I’ve said repeatedly that the conduct is questionable at best in my opinion and needs to be investigated and not assumed to be valid, I have never said I know for a fact that every allegation is true by the defense, or that I know for a fact that there are not circumstances I am not aware of that justify what is true.

    But not being on formal suicide watch and not seeing a psychologist are elements that raise things to the level of questionable yes, and if you think that’s assuming everything to be true on one side then I don’t know what else to say except I don’t agree.

  12. soonergrunt says:

    No, Stewie. He’s checked on during the day something like every 10 minutes by somebody looking in his cell.
    The brig staff could, I suppose, turn on the light in his cell 24/7, and wake him up every 10 minutes to check, because a sleeping person looks suspiciously like a dead one. Or they can give him a suicide-proof smock and let him sleep in darkness, in the knowledge that it’s damned hard to strangle yourself with one of those things. These things weren’t invented in a vacuum.
    Whether or not they are right to do this is a matter for the system to work out, but they’re a hell of a lot more interested in delivering Manning to his court martial alive than they are interested in making you or him happy about it.

  13. Stewie says:

    His attorney has made more complaints than simply being naked, there’s a whole list of them, and a lot of them don’t seem related to life preservation.

    I guess at the end of the day, I’d be a little more convinced if he was actually on an official suicide watch.

    But I give up, clearly the consensus is that everything is just a-ok and anyone in his position would be treated exactly the same way and there’s nothing to see here.

    I don’t need to be “happy” about his confinement, I simply ask that his confinement be in accordance with law. I, and others, are not convinced there isn’t a question here in that respect, nor is everyone convinced there truly is a legitimate concern that Manning will kill himself or is a suicide risk.

    But I appear to be playing my trumpet alone on here, so I’ll stop sounding notes.

  14. Dwight Sullivan says:

    Stewie, I enjoy your trumpet playing, whether it’s a solo or part of a horn section. Either way, please keep playing.

  15. Stewie says:

    Oh I will still play sir, but this particular song seems to have dropped out of the top 100.

  16. soonergrunt says:

    Here’s a question I have, given all of the nonsense surrounding this–can the Convening Authority order Manning to be transferred to another facility if he has lost confidence in the functioning of the PTC facility at Quantico? If so, where could Manning be transferred to?

    And there has been a lot of nonsense. It’s like the photo-negative of the Lakin case.

  17. bill almett says:

    Manning’s gonna walk on the charges cause of all this BS. Some folks can’t see the forest for the trees…

  18. Rob M says:

    And there has been a lot of nonsense. It’s like the photo-negative of the Lakin case.

    I dunno…so far CAAFLOG hasn’t been inundated with the fringe denizens of the internet coming out of the woodwork to anonymously scream at us in ASCII format. Reasonable, open-minded disagreement is fine.

    Also, “Manning-Log” just isn’t as alliterative as LakinLog was.

  19. soonergrunt says:

    so far CAAFLOG hasn’t been inundated with the fringe denizens of the internet coming out of the woodwork to anonymously scream at us in ASCII format. Reasonable, open-minded disagreement is fine.

    So far. You should see the craziness that abounds on other blogs that just weeks ago were bastions of sanity and normalcy. I specifically never mention CAAFlog, because I don’t want to be responsible for the flood of guano crazy.
    I can’t control google though.

  20. BEE says:

    Manning’s gonna walk on the charges cause of all this BS. Some folks can’t see the forest for the trees…

    I agree that this could kill the Army’s case, but not on its merits. On its merits, I think any motion of illegal pretrial punishment is a loser. It seems like a very long shot to convince a Military Judge that a Marine Brig Commander would be so offended by this Army pre-trial confinee that he would go to these lengths to punish him. The fact that this brig had a recent suicide makes proving an intent to punish rather than to be extra cautious about suicides even harder to prove.

    While the motion may be a loser, it does fulfill the purposes of a classic defense tactic against military prosecutors. That of “look, a bright shiny object!” The Army trial counsels need to make sure they don’t fall into the trap of wasting all their resources defending against these motions, and forget that the goal is to prove their case. In reality, even if illegal pretrial punishment is proven, it isn’t going to be case-dispositive. The Army needs to realize that winning such a motion means nothing if there is no sentence to begin with.

  21. publius says:

    soonergrunt asked:

    “can the Convening Authority order Manning to be transferred to another facility if he has lost confidence in the functioning of the PTC facility at Quantico?”

    Probably. But it’s very unlikely he would do so. Quantico brig is the largest and best equipped, if not the only, military brig in the DC area. As for “loss of confidence”, that would be daring. The Marines are confining this guy, and keeping him alive until his day in court. That responsibility has fallen to the Marines. Meanwhile, the Army- to include the Convening Authority- can’t seem to get him into court. The Marines must want this headache to go away, and it will only go away when the court-martial gets underway. If anyone should lose confidence in this situation, it’s the Marine Corps losing confidence in the Army. The Marine Corps is taking flak for how it detains this guy, while the Army takes forever to get him into court. There are probably good reasons for that, but the Army’s asking a lot of the Corps here. It would be courageous indeed for the Army Convening Authority to declare that the Marine Corps isn’t doing its job.

  22. soonergrunt says:

    @Publius, 1159hrs;
    Thanks for the reply and also for the perspective of the other side.
    I’m assuming (and we all know where that leads) that the CA can’t really tell the Q-brig how to treat his PTC detainee.