Chelsea Manning is once again detained in conditions of solitary confinement while United States authorities deny this reality to the press.
Individuals with the support group, Chelsea Resists, visited Manning at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center, where she has been detained since March 8 after she refused to answer questions before a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
The group learned she is in “administrative segregation,” which the jail claims is standard for “high-profile” individuals like Manning.
The “administrative segregation” policy for the detention center—as outlined in an inmate handbook from July 2017—is to house an individual for up to 22 hours per day. A break is given on an established schedule that typically lasts for two hours. A person can “make personal phone calls” and “attend” to “hygiene needs.”
According to Chelsea Resists, Manning has been granted a break every day from 1 am to 3 am. She vomited during their 45-minute visit because the stimulation of being outside of her 22-hour lockdown made her nauseous.
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne insists this is not solitary confinement. Individuals confined at the facility in “administrative segregation” have “access to visits, books, and recreation.”
Yet Solitary Watch, a U.S. watchdog organization that monitors widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails, defines solitary confinement as “the practice of isolating people in closed cells for 22-24 hours a day, virtually free of human contact, for periods of time ranging from days to decades.”
Solitary Watch notes most facilities do not refer to the practice as solitary confinement. They use other words like “segregation.” Sometimes it may even be referred to as “involuntary protective custody.” LGBTQ individuals are often placed in this type of isolation, as authorities claim it will keep them safe from harm in general population.
Chelsea Resists said Manning is not allowed to “visit the law library and has no access to books or reading material,” which contradicts the jail’s claim about access to books.
Manning was held in conditions of solitary confinement when she was in pretrial detention at the Quantico Marine brig in 2010 and 2011, confined to her cell about 23 hours each day. She was put on “prevention of injury” (POI) watch.
Although Col. Denise Lind, a military judge, granted Manning 112 days in sentencing credit for “unlawful” pretrial punishment during his time at Quantico, she contended Manning was not held in solitary confinement because that means “alone and without human contact.” However, there were no doors separating her, and there were regular walkthrough visits by commanding officers. She had human interaction, Lind added.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reacted, “No prisoner is ever held in total isolation; there’s always incidental contact with prison staff who deliver meals and perform other essential tasks.”
“In this country, solitary confinement has always gone by many names, whether it occurs in a so-called ‘supermax prison’ or in a separate unit within a regular prison called disciplinary segregation, administrative segregation, control units, security housing units (SHU), special management units (SMU), or simply ‘the hole,’” the ACLU added. “But by any reasonable definition, being locked alone in a cell for 22 or 23 hours a day is solitary confinement.”
Manning described in testimony during her court-martial how she was confined in a cell that was six-by-eight feet. It had a “rack,” a mattress on a large metal fixture where she slept. It was possibly two feet off the ground.
There was a toilet and sink about “waist high.” Nothing obstructed the view of the toilet. An observation room was slightly offset but right across from his cell and could see her entire cell. She was constantly observed. An officer in the brig regularly demand that she let the officer know if she was “okay.”
Manning recalled suffering from “sheer complete out of my mind boredom.” She spent “a lot of time looking for things to stay active” and found herself feeling like she was trapped in a cage. She had to focus to make sure she maintained an awareness of her environment and did not fall asleep. Sleeping and the appearance of sleeping was prohibited.
During her time at Quantico, authorities justified her harsh confinement conditions by claiming she posed a risk to herself. Officers took her underwear away, and she was placed on suicide risk twice. A medical officer objected to these designations, but the commanding officer of the brig disregarded the medical officer’s recommendations.
Manning was transferred to Fort Leavenworth in April 2011, where she was confined until trial and imprisoned until President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.
She attempted suicide in July 2016. A three-member disciplinary board reviewed administrative charges brought against her and punished her with two weeks of solitary confinement.
“We have worked to monitor Chelsea’s well-being since her arrival at Truesdale,” Chelsea Resists declared in a statement. “In her first week, she contracted a bacterial infection which has since been resolved by antibiotics.”
“Although the facility has accommodated Chelsea’s medical needs, including hormone medications and daily post-surgery treatment, keeping her under these conditions for over 15 days amounts to torture, possibly in an attempt to coerce her into compliance with the grand jury,” the group added.
In March 2012, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez released a report where he condemned how the U.S. military imposed “seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone” who had “not been found guilty of any crime.” Mendez stated the treatment she endured was “a violation of [her] right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of [her] presumption of innocence.”
Mendez characterized any period of solitary confinement that is longer than 15 days as “prolonged solitary confinement.”
“Most of the scientific literature shows that, after 15 days, certain changes in brain functions occur and the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible,” Mendez stated. “Prolonged solitary confinement must be absolutely prohibited, because it always amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and may even constitute torture.”
The European Court of Human Rights recognizes that “sensory isolation, coupled with total social isolation, can destroy the personality and constitutes a form of inhuman treatment which cannot be justified by the requirements of security or any other reason.”
While detention center authorities may claim it is necessary to house Manning and other “high-profile” individuals in such punitive conditions to maintain order, Mendez criticized this practice because it denies a “detained person” the “opportunity to challenge the decision made.”
“Guards and prison personnel may easily make an excessive use of solitary confinement while invoking those reasons. Any case where the victims’ suffering reaches the required degree of severity will amount to ill-treatment and possibly to torture,” Mendez additionally argued.
The impact of this round of prolonged solitary confinement is probably even worse for Manning, since she was already cruelly and inhumanely treated in this manner a little more than eight years ago. She is likely reliving the trauma of Quantico, as well as other horrible experiences from her prior incarceration.
Nevertheless, Manning remains committed to her grand jury resistance, even as prosecutors potentially use solitary confinement as a means to coerce her into testifying against WikiLeaks, the publisher that helped her expose the truth about war crimes and various other acts of misconduct by U.S. government officials.