Military officials admitted today that Quantico Brig Commander James Averhart improperly classified Bradley Manning as a “suicide risk” in order to impose harsh conditions on him as punishment for failure to follow orders. Averhart’s order overruled the opinion of three brig psychiatrists who said Manning was not at risk.
The statement comes one day after David House, Manning’s only regular visitor, was detained for two hours by military police and prevented from seeing Manning until visiting hours were over.
“With today’s admission, the government acknowledges they have been abusing Bradley Manning’s medical classification to consciously subject him to relentless isolation and deprivation,” says House. “President Obama and Robert Gates should heed the call of the United Nations, Amnesty International and Psychologists for Social Responsibility and put an end to Bradley’s cruel and inhumane treatment.”
At yesterday’s White House Press Briefing, Jake Tapper of ABC News asked Robert Gibbs if the administration was satisfied that Manning was being kept in conditions that are appropriate for his accused crime, and that his visitors are treated as any visitors to any prison are treated. Gibbs replied that he “would direct you to the authorities that are holding [Manning].”
Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, filed an Article 138 complaint alleging Averhart has consistently abused his discretion over a soldier in his command, at which point the Army Solicitor General commenced an investigation.
Averhart subsequently removed the suicide risk classification, but continues to impose a Prevention of Injury (POI) order on Manning which allows the government to hold him in conditions akin to solitary confinement while consistently denying they are doing so.
“It was clear that Quantico officials wanted to keep David from visiting Bradley and discovering their malfeasance,” said Jane Hamsher, the blogger who accompanied House to the base and was detained along with him. “They abused their power and authority in order to intensify Bradley Manning’s isolation and suffering. It was a sad and shameful attempt to evade detection for actions they well knew were indefensible.”
House and Hamsher began live-tweeting their detainment by Quantico military police moment-by-moment, and quickly developed a worldwide audience who followed events in real-time. Despite this, Quantico spokesperson T.V. Johnson denied to the Associated Press that the two had been detained.
Officials also deny that Manning has been “tortured” or held in “solitary confinement” without due process. They say he is being treated “like any other maximum security prisoner at Quantico, Va.”
Manning’s attorney David Coombs disputes this claim. Manning’s POI watch is not standard, and Averhart has continued to ignore the recommendations that have been made by brig psychiatrists since August that it be lifted.
According to Coombs, three brig psychiatrists have consistently stated that “there was no medical reason for PFC Manning to be under POI watch.” Although the government asserts that Manning is not be treated differently from any other maximum custody detainees on POI watch, the reality Coombs says is that “Manning is the only detainee being held under maximum custody and POI watch.” According to 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.”
“Solitary confinement is an assault on the body and psyche of an individual” says Dr. Jeffrey Kaye of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, who works with victims of torture. “Over time, isolation produces a particular well-known syndrome which is akin to that of an organic brain disorder, or delirium. While the Defense Department claims that the POI order is meant to protect Bradley Manning from harm, 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.”
In acknowledging that Averhart had exceeded his authority in placing Manning on suicide watch, military officials say that “only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.” They did not address the fact that Averhart is still overriding the recommendations of these same psychiatrists in keeping Manning on POI watch.
Military officials also confirm that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. In December of 2010, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department was attempting to build a case against Assange by looking for evidence he colluded with Manning.
“The administration should demand that the brig commander immediately accept the recommendations of their own psychiatrists” says House. “To do otherwise is to destroy the mind of someone they have determined to be an ‘enemy of the state’ without benefit of a trial. These are the actions of a tin-pot, autocratic third world country.”
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