Last night, anonymous military officials admitted to NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski that Quantico Brig Commander James Averhart abused his authority when he placed Bradley Manning on suicide watch as punishment for failure to obey orders.

The admission comes after Manning’s friend David House was detained by military police and prevented from visiting him at Quantico last weekendJake Tapper of ABC News asked Robert Gibbs about the incident yesterday during a White House press briefing, and wanted to know if the administration was concerned about the way Manning is being treated.  Gibbs referred him to “the authorities that are holding him [Manning].”

Col. T.V. Johnson, Quantico spokesman, has long denied that Manning is in solitary confinement, and has only been place on “Prevention of Injury” watch (POI) under solitary confinement-like conditions so he “does not injure himself,” per the New York Times.

Yet, three brig psychiatrists have examined Manning since August, and all of them say Manning is not a suicide risk. Each of them has recommended that Manning’s POI order be lifted.  Commander Averhart has consistently ignored their recommendations, however, and last week made Manning’s confinement even harsher when he classified him as a suicide risk.

According to Manning’s attorney David Coombs, who filed an Article 138 complaint against Averhart for abusing his authority:

The suicide risk assignment meant that PFC Manning was required to remain in his cell for 24 hours a day. He was stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken away from him. He was forced to sit in essential blindness with the exception of the times that he was reading or given limited television privileges. During those times, his glasses were returned to him. Additionally, there was always a guard sitting outside of his cell watching him.

The acknowledgment of anonymous military officials that Averhart abused Manning’s medical classification to unnecessarily subject him to harsh, degrading and restrictive conditions clearly demonstrates that Quantico officials have made false statements about what they are doing to Manning, and their reasons for doing so.  Placing Manning on suicide watch in order to punish him was undeniably a way to subject him to the severe conditions of extreme solitary confinement while disingenuously maintaining it was out of medical necessity.

Dr. Jeffrey Kaye of Survivors International, a San Francisco-based torture victims center, describes the effect of severe solitary confinement:

Solitary confinement is an assault on the body and psyche of an individual…Over time, isolation produces a particular well-known syndrome which is akin to that of an organic brain disorder, or delirium….In fact, while the Defense Department claims that “maximum custody” and POI are meant to protect Bradley Manning from harm, or mitigate possible agitated or aggressive behavior by the prisoner, the very conditions they have placed him under are known to break down individuals and bring about the very kinds of aggressive behavior the POI orders are supposed to prevent.  Indeed, it appears the government wants to impress upon Manning its immense power, and induce in the prisoner a feelings of utter futility and helpless dependence.

The anonymous military officials cited in Jim Miklaszewski’s reporting say that Averhart “did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.”

However, Manning continues to be held on POI watch on Averhart’s orders, which also override the recommendations of medical personnel.  It is not clear how Averhart exceeded and abused his authority in one case, but is justified in ignoring the recommendations of the very same brig psychiatrists in the other.

David Coombs also challenges the allegation of Quantico spokemen that Manning is being treated no differently than any other maximum custody detainee.

“Manning is the only detainee being held under maximum custody and POI watch” says Coombs. “The real question, that the government has never answered, is why is Manning being held under maximum custody and POI watch at this point given the consistent recommendations to remove him from this custody classification.”

As I wrote at the time, the goal of Military Police was clearly to prevent David House from seeing Bradley Manning until visiting hours were over when they detained us last weekend. David had not seen Manning for over a month while he was in Europe raising funds for Bradley’s defense, and was extremely concerned about his condition.

The MP’s said they were acting on orders from their superiors in detaining us.  Not only did their actions serve  to increase Manning’s isolation by denying him social interaction, it is now apparent they were attempting to keep Manning from telling David what had happened to him.  David has been subjected to harassment, detainment and investigation from Army Counterintelligence, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for months now.  They seized his computer and all his coding work for the crime of visiting Bradley Manning.  In December he spoke out about Manning’s conditions on MSNBC, and no doubt would have done so again.

Quantico spokesmen can not be counted upon to reliably report what is happening to Bradley Manning while he is in their custody, nor can Averhart be trusted to determine Manning’s medical status counter to the recommendations of brig psychiatrists.  It is the responsibility of President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to insure that the punitive maximum custody and POI watch order on Bradley Manning is lifted, and see that he receives a fair trial.

The abusive treatment of Bradly Manning is disturbingly similar to the human rights violations recently brought to light by the ACLU regarding other US detainees.  They have recently obtained new documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing that 25 to 30 detainees in US custody have died of “unjustifiable homicides” in the War on Terror.  As Glenn Greenwald says, “It’s long been known that many detainees were killed by their treatment during interrogation….But these new documents show that these deaths at the hands of U.S. captors were even more deliberate, brutal and widespread than previously known.”

If President Obama is truly committed to the principle that America does not subject its citizens to human rights violations which breach our obligations under international standards and treaties, he should heed the calls of Amnesty International, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and Psychologists for Social Responsibility by moving quickly to insure not only the fair and humane treatment of Bradley Manning, but of all individuals in the custody of the United States government.

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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