Accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning was stripped of his clothes and forced to sit naked in his cell for seven hours wednesday, according to his lawyer, Lt. Col. David Coombs, who reported Manning's experience on his blog. Then, at 5 a.m. Thursday, he was forced to stand naked at attention at the front of his cell while the brig supervisor counted the detainees in the Quantico, Virginia, military brig. Ten minutes later, a guard gave him his clothes back. The military confirms this treatment, says it was in keeping with military policy, but can't explain why because of Manning's privacy.
"It would be inappropriate for me to explain it,”
First Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman told the New York Times' Charlie Savage. "I can confirm that it did happen, but I can't explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy."
Huh? Why would the military's explanation of why it was detaining soldiers in the buff violate their privacy? We asked Gene Fidell, a military law expert and lecturer at Yale. "I am as puzzled as everyone else," he says. The Freedom of Information Act "permits the government to withhold from disclosure documents whose release would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." That would cover what medical care a person needed or received, for example. The military has placed Manning under several restrictions to prevent him from hurting himself. But his lawyer and supporters say Manning is not suicidal.
"If his cell was being inspected for contraband, that could take a while, and might conceivably a strip search--but not 7 hours," Fidell says.
Elsewhere, the Pentagon press secretary Geoffrey Morrell said on MSNBC that Manning's detention conditions reflected "the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence, the national security implications." But Coombs says there's no valid reason for it. "This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification. It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated."
Here's what others are saying:
Unacceptable, Outside the Beltway's James Joyner writes. "I’m in no way sympathetic to Manning, much less Julian Assange and the Wikileaks gang. But this treatment by the American government is simply shameful. And both admitting to doing it but refusing to explain why–under claim of concern for Manning’ privacy no less–should embarrass anyone wearing the uniform of a United States Marine."
No Big Deal, Commentary's Alana Goodman argues. "It's typical of attorneys to claim that their clients are mistreated in prison... But based on Villiard’s statement, and the timeline of the incident, it sounds like Manning’s clothes may have been taken from him owing to suicide concerns. The Army private was previously put on suicide watch in prison. His reaction to the new charges against him could have military officials apprehensive about his mental state."
Part of a Pattern, writes Fire Dog Lake's Emptywheel, who notes that nudity has been part of American interrogation policy in the war on terror for several years. There's this CIA memo from 2004, for example:
Establishing the baseline state is important to demonstrate to the HVD that he has no control over basic human needs. The baseline state also creates in the detainee a mindset in which he learns to perceive and value his personal welfare, comfort, and immediate needs more than the information he is protecting. The use of conditioning techniques do not generally bring immediate results; rather, it is the cumulative effect of these techniques, used over time and in combination with other interrogation techniques and intelligence exploitation methods, which achieve interrogation objectives. These conditioning techniques require little to no physical interaction between the detainee and the interrogator. The specific interrogation techniques are:
a. Nudity. The HVD’s clothes are taken and he remains nude until the interrogators provide clothes to him.
The Army charged Manning with 22 more counts for stealing government documents Wednesday, including "aiding the enemy" which carries the death penalty. But thus far, prosecutors have been unable to tie Manning to WikiLeaks.