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Updated: March 12, 2011 22:01 IST

Manning alleges mistreatment; Crowley agrees

Narayan Lakshman
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File photo of Bradley Manning
AP File photo of Bradley Manning

In the latest twist to the saga of Bradley Manning, the United States military intelligence officer in jail over allegations of leaking private files and cables to Wikileaks, the whistleblower website, a top representative of the State Department publicly agreed that Mr. Manning was being "mistreated".

Even as Mr. Manning released his first direct communication from his holding cell in a military facility in Quantico, Virginia, P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Public Affairs and a spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said at a seminar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that the treatment meted out to Mr. Manning was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defence".

Mr. Manning, who had earlier only spoken through his lawyer, David Coombs, or his friends, said in his letter, that ever since being placed on suicide watch in January, he was being forced to strip naked every night and subjected to "unlawful pre-trial punishment".

His letter further alleges that his "prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness", and, often becoming upset, "Out of frustration, I clenched my hair with my fingers and yelled: 'Why are you doing this to me? Why am I being punished? I have done nothing wrong.'"

Friction within Obama administration

Mr. Crowley’s comments revealed frictions within the Barack Obama administration on how to deal with Mr. Manning, with the President issuing comments that effectively condoned Mr. Manning’s treatment.

At a news conference Mr. Obama said, "With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards... They assure me that they are."

Implying that Mr. Manning’s solitary confinement and stripping was for his own protection Mr. Obama added, "I cannot go into details about some of their concerns... but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well."

Earlier this month the government’s Justice Department announced that Mr. Manning had been slapped with 22 new charges including "aiding the enemy", punishable by death. Although the charges did not explicitly identify who the "enemy" in question was, they alleged that when he was based out of his post in Iraq, he did "steal, purloin, or knowingly convert to his use or the use of another, a record or thing of value of the U.S..."

In January this year, a non-profit group called Psychologists for Social Responsibility wrote an open letter to Secretary of Defence Robert Gates in which it said it was "deeply concerned about the conditions under which PFC Bradley Manning is being held", citing in particular the fact that he was in solitary confinement for approximately 23 hours a day in a cell approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length "for no discernable reason other than punishment..."

In his letter, Mr. Manning also commented on a recent decision of the United States government to keep him under even more restrictive conditions through a Prevention of Injury (PoI) order. In particular, he shared excerpts from the observation records which, according to The Guardian, consistently report that Mr. Manning was "respectful, courteous and well spoken", and "does not have any suicidal feelings at this time".

Further, reports said that 16 separate entries made from 27 August until the records stopped on January 28 "show that Manning was evaluated by prison psychiatrists who found he was not a danger to himself and should be removed from the PoI order".

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