Bradley Manning

Update: Watch David House discuss his visit with Bradley Manning in an interview with MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan.

This weekend David House had his first opportunity to visit with Bradley Manning in over a month.

House faced even stricter scrutiny from the guards, and Manning is still being detained under MAX/POI. Once in, Manning had some interesting observations about the situation in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as about American punditry’s reaction. Meanwhile, the new brig commander is going over Manning’s file, and a decision about possible changes in the conditions of Manning’s detention may be coming this week.

We drove down to Quantico on both Saturday and Sunday. Because David was concerned for his friend’s health and his first priority was being able to see him, we made the decision not to pursue delivery of the petition (now with 51,382 signatures) to the brig commander at this time. A new brig commander was appointed last week after the previous one abused Manning’s medical classification in order to punish him for “disobeying orders.” We also wanted to give her time to review Manning’s case and hopefully make the decision to remove him from punitive POI watch/MAX custody.

Access to the Brig

Per the request of the guards who detained us last week, this time David drove on to the base in a taxi cab with a driver who has been going there for 15 years. The driver had been on the base just the day before with no problem. This time, however, his cab was searched and he was ordered to be accompanied by two vehicles — one behind and one in front — on a slow three-mile drive to the brig. And for the first time, David was subject to two checkpoints between the gate and the brig during which their IDs were taken and they called ahead to the brig to clear them.

When going to the FBI academy on the other side of Quantico, the driver said that he was accustomed to being accompanied by one vehicle but never two. He said he had never been accompanied at all by an escort on this part of the base. A trip that had never taken us more than two minutes before now took approximately 20 minutes.

Manning’s Condition

Bradley was brought in to meet with David, per usual, in chains. His MAX custody classification means that the entire facility is on lockdown whenever he leaves his cell, and he must be accompanied by two guards at all time. During his conversations with David, Manning’s guards listen closely to everything they say, and make it a point to make noise and shift around frequently to call attention to their presence in the room.

David was initially quite concerned about Manning’s state of mind, and felt he was beginning to exhibit some of the damaging symptoms of prolonged isolation including emotional withdrawal and impaired cognitive function. Bradley seemed slow to respond when they spoke, and could not process information as quickly as he normally did.

Bradley became excited and engaged, however, when David mentioned the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Youth-Driven Social Media-Enabled Uprisings

“Bradley is in a shocked state due to solitary confinement, but his mood and mind soared when I mentioned the democratic uprisings in Egypt” said House on his Twitter feed last night.

Bradley was specifically interested in the role that online social networks had played in facilitating the uprising of young, technologically sophisticated youth in both Tunisia and Egypt. He noted that at a certain point, crowds seem to collectively intuit that they have reached a size sufficient to overpower the police. He felt that the broad instant communication capabilities of social networks in Tunisia and Egypt had enabled the quick assembly of enough people to reach this “tipping point” in a way that had not been previously possible.

David and Bradley did not discuss the role that leaked WikiLeaks documents played in sparking civic action in Tunisia and Egypt. Bill Keller of the New York Times, however, recently wrote that the “WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.” And Michael Hirsh, writing in the National Journal, says that “the Wikileaks cables may have done more to inspire democracy in the Arab world than did a bloody, decade long, trillion-dollar war effort orchestrated by the United States.”

Manning had seen Harold Ford’s appearance on Meet the Press and thought that his observations were compelling. In response to Mike Murphy’s comment that the uprising in Egypt could mean a “disaster for American foreign policy,” Ford referred to a giant board containing Twitter postings and said:

The, the median age in Egypt is 24. This is a group of global citizens who understand that board better than some sitting around this table, and even some who fashioned foreign policy for America in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s. In many ways, as, as Martin [Indyk] said, this is a, this is a 21st century revolution that a lot of the old paradigms and old rules we apply, and all the analysis–not that it’s bad analysis, it’s just maybe dated.

Manning thought it was interesting that Ford acknowledged the young people in Egypt understood their own political situation much better than professional American pundits, in a way that could make their roles as commentators obsolete. He also found the aggressive pushback Ford received from his fellow panelists to that notion extremely amusing.

The government has not charged Manning with leaking cables to WikiLeaks, nor has Manning admitted to doing so. U.S. military officials recently told NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between Manning and Julian Assange.

New Brig Commander and Psychiatric Status

This week, the new brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Denise Barnes, will decide whether the punitive psychiatric evaluation of Manning ordered by the previous brig commander, James Averhart, will continue or not. Manning is being held in “special quarters” as a result of this status. Manning’s attorney, Iraq veteran Lt. Col David Coomb, cited SECNAVINST 1640.9C in recent statement on Manning’s status. It reads: “Special quarters are not a punitive measure and shall not be used as such. Prisoners must be made aware of the reason they are berthed in special quarters.”

Neither Manning nor Coombs has received an explanation as to why Manning is being held in Special Quarters. In his press conference last week, Department of Defense spokesman Geoff Morrell indicated it was due to the threat Manning posed to national security. However, according to people familiar with military law, placing Manning in MAX custody solely under the basis of the charge would be a violation of Article 13. They indicate Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has stated that a confinement facility must point to more than just the nature of the allegation.

Punitive psychiatry for political ends was systematic in the Soviet Union from the 1960s to the 1980s, according to the British Medical Association. “In a monolith state, psychiatry can be used to bypass normal legal procedures for assessing guilt or innocence and allow political imprisonment without the usual odium attached to such political trials.”

Brig Commander Averhart’s decision to hold Manning under Protection of Injury Watch and MAX custody was made against the advice of three brig psychiatrists, who have recommended that Manning be moved to Medium Detention In (MDI) and without POI watch restrictions. Contrary to the assertion of Department of Defense Spokesman Geoff Morrell, Manning is the only detainee at the Quantico Brig being held under POI watch/MAX custody.

On January 9 2011 Manning’s lawyer, Iraq veteran Lt. Col. David Coombs filed a demand for a speedy trial with the Government. Since July 12 2010, according to Coombs, the case has been on government-requested executable delay which was approved by the court-martial convening authority. Coombs indicates that “the case is currently awaiting the start of a Rule for Courts-Martial (R.C.M) 706 Board. This board will likely begin its work in February.”

Manning has now been in pre-trial confinement since May 29, 2010.

You can still sign our petition to incoming Quantico brig Commander Barnes

Update: Watch David House discuss his visit with Bradley Manning in an interview with MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan.