Response to Pentagon Press Secretary’s Inaccurate Statements

Earlier today, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell spoke to the media in an attempt to discredit the concerns over PFC Manning’s confinement conditions.  I would like to respond to the following inaccuracies in Mr. Morrell’s statements:

Mr. Morrell implied that he visited PFC Manning.

In response to two separate questions by reporters, (“You yourself have visited him [PFC Manning]”; “You have seen him in person…”) Mr. Morrell chronicled his visit to the Quantico Brig.  While it may be the case that Mr. Morrell has visited the Brig, he has not “visited” PFC Manning.  Specifically, he has never spoken with PFC Manning or had any interaction with PFC Manning.  It is also unclear whether he even saw PFC Manning at the Brig.

Mr. Morrell indicated that PFC Manning is not in solitary confinement.

Mr. Morrell indicated that PFC Manning is not in solitiary confinement.  He talked about the Brig having 30 cells in a “U” shaped corridor.  He stated that there were seven others inmates in this corridor and that PFC Manning was “not in a hole” and “not away from others.”  He also said that PFC Manning was “allowed to have conversations with others in the corridor.”

While it is true that PFC Manning is not technically held in solitary confinement, the cumulative effect of his confinement conditions are tantamount to solitary confinement.  There are no other detainees on either side of PFC Manning.  His cell does not have a window or any natural light.  If PFC Manning attempts to speak to others that are several cells away from him, the guards will likely view it as disruptive and require him to stop speaking.  Other than the one hour a day that he is taken to an empty room to walk around, PFC Manning is required to remain in his cell.

Mr. Morrell stated that PFC Manning is not being treated any differently than other detainees at the Brig.

Mr. Morrell indicates that fundamentally, PFC Manning is not being treated differently than any other detainee at the Brig owing to his classification as a Maximum security detainee.  Mr. Morrell states that “really the only difference” between PFC Manning and any other detainee is “outside the cell”: Manning cannot have meals outside his cell; he is not permitted to exercise with others; and he cannot watch television with others.  Mr. Morrell indicates that one other detainee at Quantico is being held in Maximum security custody.

Mr. Morrell fails to highlight some of the other important distinctions between a Maximum security and a Medium security detainee.  As a Maximum detainee, PFC Manning is required to remain in his cell for 23 hours a day.  Whenever he is moved outside of his cell, the entire facility is locked down.  PFC Manning must wear hand and leg restraints when he is outside of his cell and is escorted by at least two guards whenever he is moved.  Medium security detainees are not subject to these additional restrictions.

Mr. Morrell also omits another very important fact — that PFC Manning is the only detainee at Quantico that is being held both in Maximum custody and under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch.  The POI watch is being continued over the recommendation of mental health professionals who indicate that PFC Manning is not a risk to himself or to others.  The conditions imposed on PFC Manning under the POI watch (which have been ongoing for 8 months) are unduly harsh and punitive in nature.
The conditions of the POI watch have been documented in detail in an earlier statement.  Briefly, under POI watch, the guards check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay; PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner.  At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or he is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure that he is okay.  He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets.  He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.  He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.  When he goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his underwear and surrender his clothing to the guards.

As I indicated, no other detainee at Quantico is being held under both Maximum custody and POI watch.  Thus, Mr. Morrell’s statement that there is really no difference between PFC Manning and other detainees at Quantico is inaccurate.

Mr. Morrell stated PFC Manning is being held in Maximum for his own good.

Mr. Morrell stated that PFC Manning is being held under his current confinement conditions due to “the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence, the national security implications, and also the potential harm to him that he could do to himself or from others …”  Mr. Morrell elaborated that the confinement conditions were “for his [PFC Manning’s] own good.”

Although the seriousness of the offense is a factor to be considered, it cannot be the sole basis for confinement conditions.  PFC Manning is presumed innocent of these offenses.  Additionally, although risk of self-harm or harm from others can be considered in determining appropriate confinement conditions, the Brig’s own mental health professionals dispute the validity of this concern.  Since August of 2010, they have consistently determined that PFC Manning is not at risk of self-harm and have recommended that the POI watch be lifted.

Over the course of eight months, PFC Manning has done everything asked of him.  His model behavior has not factored into the custody classification by the Brig.  Even Mr. Morrell acknowledged that PFC Manning “has been exemplary in terms of his behavior on the cell block.”  Other detainees typically are removed from Maximum custody and from POI watch once they demonstrate, through their behavior, that the conditions are no longer warranted.  Under Secretary of the Navy Instruction (SECNAVINST) 1649.9C, Maximum custody and POI are intended to be used sparingly and for a limited duration of time.  Despite the Navy Instruction, PFC Manning remains subject to unduly harsh confinement conditions.  Given his “exemplary” behavior and the fact he is not considered at risk for self-harm, the confinement conditions appear to be based solely on the nature of the charges.