Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK).

Bradley Manning

In the ongoing scandal regarding the treatment of Pfc Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower responsible for leaking a treasure trove of classified US documents to WikiLeaks, who has been held since last July in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, a slowly building body of criticism turned into a torrent of indignation early last month, when it was revealed that, as well as being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and checked every five minutes under a “Prevention of Injury” (PoI) order, Manning is also stripped naked every night (apart from a smock) and is made to stand naked outside his cell every morning as the cells are inspected.

In a legal letter to the US authorities, which was released by his lawyer a month ago, Manning described his conditions of confinement in his own words, which were reported in the Guardian as follows:

[Manning explained] how he was placed on suicide watch for three days from 18 January. “I was stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness.”

Manning writes that he believes the suicide watch was imposed not because he was a danger to himself but as retribution for a protest about his treatment held outside Quantico the day before. Immediately before the suicide watch started, he said guards verbally harassed him, taunting him with conflicting orders.

When he was told he was being put on suicide watch, he writes, “I became 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.’”

He also describes the experience of being stripped naked at night and made to stand for parade in the nude, a condition that continues to this day. “The guard told me to stand at parade rest, with my hands behind my back and my legs spaced shoulder-width apart. I stood at parade rest for about three minutes … The [brig supervisor] and the other guards walked past my cell. He looked at me, paused for a moment, then continued to the next cell. I was incredibly embarrassed at having all these people stare at me naked.”

In the letter, Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, also included excerpts from the brig’s observation records, in which it is repeatedly stated that Manning is “respectful, courteous and well spoken” and that he “does not have any suicidal feelings at this time”. Coombs also noted that, in 16 entries between August last year and January this year, Manning “was evaluated by prison psychiatrists who found he was not a danger to himself and should be removed from the PoI order.”

In response to this clear abuse, critics began to emerge from unusual places. State Department P.J. Crowley, for example, was obliged to resign after he publicly complained that the Pentagon’s handling of Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” and this week nearly 300 of what the Guardian described as “America’s most eminent legal scholars” (plus other leading academics) have signed a letter complaining about Manning’s treatment. Initiated on the blog Balkinization, and written by two distinguished law professors, Bruce Ackerman of Yale and Yochai Benkler of Harvard, the complaint (published in full below) states that the “degrading and inhumane conditions” to which Pfc Manning is being subjected are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

As the Guardian reported, they “claim Manning’s reported treatment is a violation of the US constitution, specifically the Eighth Amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment that prevents punishment without trial,” and, “in a stinging rebuke to Obama,” state that “he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency.”

The complaint has been published in the New York Review of Books, and its signatories include Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor “considered to be America’s foremost liberal authority on constitutional law,” who “taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.” Other signatories include Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Bill Clinton’s former labour secretary Robert Reich, President Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great-grandson Kermit Roosevelt, and Norman Dorsen, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tribe, who joined the Obama administration last year as a legal adviser in the Justice Department, but who left his post three months ago, told the Guardian that the treatment of Manning was objectionable “in the way it violates his person and his liberty without due process of law and in the way it administers cruel and unusual punishment of a sort that cannot be constitutionally inflicted even upon someone convicted of terrible offences, not to mention someone merely accused of such offences.”

Yochai Benkler also spoke to the Guardian, stating, “It is incumbent on us as citizens and professors of law to say that enough is enough. We cannot allow ourselves to behave in this way if we want America to remain a society dedicated to human dignity and process of law.” Adding that Manning’s conditions were being used “as a warning to future whistleblowers,” he also said, “I find it tragic that it is Obama’s administration that is pursuing whistleblowers and imposing this kind of treatment.”

As well as alienating nearly 300 legal experts, President Obama has also angered the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, who, as the Guardian explained, “issued a rare reprimand to the US government on Monday for failing to allow him to meet in private Bradley Manning,” which is “the kind of censure the UN normally reserves for authoritarian regimes around the world.”

Professor Mendez said, “I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr Manning.” He added, “I am acting on a complaint that the regimen of this detainee amounts to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or torture,” but “until I have all the evidence in front of me, I cannot say whether he has been treated inhumanely.”

[T]he vast majority of states allowed for visits to detainees without conditions. But the US department of defence would not allow him to make an “official” visit, only a “private” one. An official visit would mean he meets Manning without a guard. A private visit means with a guard. Also, anything the prisoner says could be used in a court-martial.

Adding that his mandate was “to conduct unmonitored visits,” Professor Mendez also stated, “I am insisting the US government lets me see him without witnesses. I am asking [the US government] to reconsider.”

In conclusion (as the pressure will no doubt continue to mount against President Obama, who has tried and failed to wash his hands of responsibility for Pfc Manning’s treatment), I’m cross-posting below the complaint by Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler, as promised:

Private Manning’s Humiliation

By Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler

Bradley Manning is the soldier charged with leaking U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. He is currently detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.

For nine months, Manning has been confined to his cell for 23 hours a day. During his one remaining hour, he can walk in circles in another room, with no other prisoners present. He is not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, but must answer the question “Are you OK?” verbally and in the affirmative every five minutes. At night, he is awakened to be asked again, “are you OK” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket so that the guards cannot see his face. During the past week he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes.

The sum of the treatment that has been widely reported is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial. If continued, it may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture, defined as, among other things, “the administration or application … of … procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”

Private Manning has been designated as an appropriate subject for both Maximum Security and Prevention of Injury (POI) detention. But he asserts that his administrative reports consistently describe him as a well-behaved prisoner who does not fit the requirements for Maximum Security detention. The Brig psychiatrist began recommending his removal from Prevention of Injury months ago. These claims have not been publicly contested. In an Orwellian twist, the spokesman for the brig commander refused to explain the forced nudity “because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.”

The Administration has provided no evidence that Manning’s treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates. Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.

If Manning is guilty of a crime, let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law. But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is no excuse for his degrading and inhumane pre-trial punishment. As the State Department’s PJ Crowley put it recently, they are “counterproductive and stupid.” And yet Crowley has now been forced to resign for speaking the plain truth.

The WikiLeaks disclosures have touched every corner of the world. Now the whole world watches America and observes what it does; not what it says.

President Obama was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as Commander in Chief meets fundamental standards of decency. He should not merely assert that Manning’s confinement is “appropriate and meet[s] our basic standards,” as he did recently. He should require the Pentagon publicly to document the grounds for its extraordinary actions — and immediately end those which cannot withstand the light of day.

Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School

Yochai Benkler, Harvard Law School

Additional Signatories (institutional affiliation, for identification purposes only):

Jack Balkin, Yale Law School

Richard L. Abel, UCLA Law

David Abrams, Harvard Law School

Martha Ackelsberg, Smith College

Julia Adams, Sociology, Yale University

Kirsten Ainley, London School of Economics

Jeffrey Alexander, Yale University

Philip Alston, NYU School of Law

Anne Alstott, Harvard Law School

Elizabeth Anderson, Philosophy and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan

Kevin Anderson, University of California

Scott Anderson, Philosophy, University of British Columbia

Claudia Angelos, NYU School of Law

Donald K. Anton. Australian National University College of Law

Joyce Appleby, History, UCLA

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton University

Stanley Aronowitz, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center

Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, social psychologist, Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony

Reuven Avi-Yonah, University of Michigan Law

H. Robert Baker, Georgia State University

Katherine Beckett, University of Washington

Duncan Bell, Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge

Steve Berenson, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Michael Bertrand, UNC Chapel Hill

Christoph Bezemek, Public Law, Vienna University of Economics and Business

Michael J. Bosia, Political Science, Saint Michael’s College

Bret Boyce, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Rebecca M. Bratspies, CUNY School of Law

Jason Brennan, Philosophy, Brown University

Talbot Brewer, Philosophy, University of Virginia

John Bronsteen, Loyola University Chicago

Peter Brooks, Princeton University

James Robert Brown, University of Toronto

Sande L. Buhai, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

Ahmed I Bulbulia, Seton Hall Law School

Susannah Camic, University of Wisconsin Law School

Lauren Carasik, Western New England College School of Law

Teri L. Caraway, University of Minnesota

Alexander M. Capron, University of Southern California, Gould School of Law

Michael W. Carroll, Law American University

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Ph.D, Foreign Service Officer, retired

Jonathan Chausovsky, Political Science, SUNY-Fredonia

Carol Chomsky, University of Minnesota Law School

John Clippinger, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Andrew Jason Cohen, Georgia State University

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University

Marjorie Cohn, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Doug Colbert, Maryland School of Law

Sheila Collins, William Paterson University

Nancy Combs, William& Mary Law School

Stephen A. Conrad, Indiana University Mauer School of Law

Steve Cook, Philosophy, Utica College

Robert Crawford, Arts and Sciences, University of Washington

Thomas P. Crocker, University of South Carolina

Jennifer Curtin, UCI School of Medicine

Deryl D. Dantzler, Walter F. Gorge School of Law of Mercer University

Benjamin G. Davis, University of Toledo College of Law

Rochelle Davis, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Wolfgang Deckers, Richmond University, London

Michelle M. Dempsey, Villanova University School of Law

Wai Chee Dimock, English, Yale University

Sinan Dogramaci, Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin

Zayd Dohrn, Northwestern University

Jason P. Dominguez, Texas Southern University

Judith Donath, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Norman Dorsen, New York University School of Law

Michael W. Doyle, International Affairs, Law and Political Science, Columbia

Bruce T. Draine, Astrophysics, Princeton University

Jay Driskell, History, Hood College

Michael C. Duff, University of Wyoming College of Law

Lisa Duggan, Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU

Stephen M. Engel, PhD, Political Science, Marquette University

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Graduate Center,CUNY

Simon Evnine, Philosophy, University of Miami

Mark Fenster, Levin College of Law, University of Florida

Martha Field, Harvard Law School

Justin Fisher, Philosophy, Southern Methodist University

William Fisher, Harvard Law School

Joseph Fishkin, University of Texas School of Law

Mark Fishman, Sociology, Brooklyn College

Martin S. Flaherty, Fordham Law School

George P. Fletcher, Columbia University, School of Law

John Flood, Law and Sociology, University of Westminster

Michael Forman, University of Washington Tacoma

Bryan Frances, Philosophy, Fordham University

Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School

Nancy Fraser, Philosophy and Politics, New School for Social Research

Eric M. Freedman, Hofstra Law School

Monroe H. Freedman, Hofstra University Law School

Kennan Ferguson, University of Wisconsin, MilWaukee

John R. Fitzpatrick, Philosophy, University of Tennessee/Chattanooga

A. Michael Froomkin, University of Miami School of Law

Gerald Frug, Harvard Law School

Louis Furmanski, University of Central Oklahoma

James K. Galbraith, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin

Herbert J Gans, Columbia University

William Gardner, Pediatrics, Psychology,& Psychiatry, The Ohio State University

Urs Gasser, Harvard Law School, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Julius G. Getman, University of Texas Law School

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University

Bob Goodin, Australian National University

Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, Human Rights, University of Washington

David Golove, NYU School of Law

James R. Goetsch Jr., Philosophy, Eckerd College

Thomas Gokey, Art and Information Studies, Syracuse University

Robert W. Gordon, Yale Law School

Stephen E. Gottlieb, Albany Law School

Mark A. Graber, University of Maryland School of Law

Jorie Graham, Harvard University

Roger Green, Pol. Sci. and Pub. Admin., Florida Gulf Coast

Daniel JH Greenwood, Hofstra University School of Law

Christopher L. Griffin, Visiting, Duke Law School

James Grimmelmann, New York Law School

James Gronquist, Charlotte School of Law

Jean Grossholtz, Politics, Mount Holyoke College

Lisa Guenther, Philosophy, Vanderbilt University

Christopher Guzelian, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Gillian K. Hadfield, Law, Economics, University of Southern California

Jonathan Hafetz, Seton Hall University School of Law

Lisa Hajjar, University of California – Santa Barbara

Susan Hazeldean, Robert M. Cover Fellow, Yale Law School

Dirk t. D. Held, Classics, Connecticut College

Kevin Jon Heller, Melbourne Law School

Lynne Henderson, UNLV–Boyd School of Law (emerita)

Stephen Hetherington, Philosophy, University of New South Wales

Kurt Hochenauer, University of Central Oklahoma

Lonny Hoffman, Univ of Houston Law Center

Michael Hopkins, MHC International Ltd

Nathan Robert Howard, St. Andrews

Marc Morjé Howard, Government, Georgetown University

Kyron Huigens, Cardozo School of Law

Alexandra Huneeus, University of Wisconsin Law School

David Ingram, Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago

David Isenberg,

Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School

Christopher Jencks, Harvard Kennedy School

Paula Johnson, Alliant International University

Robert N. Johnson, Philosophy, University of Missouri

Albyn C. Jones, Statistics, Reed College

Lynne Joyrich, Modern Culture and Media, Brown University

David Kairys, Beasley Law School

Eileen Kaufman, Touro Law Center

Kevin B. Kelly, Seton Hall University School of Law

Antti Kauppinen, Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School

Daniel Kevles, Yale University

Heidi Kitrosser, University of Minnesota Law School

Gillian R. Knapp, Princeton University

Seth F. Kreimer, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Alex Kreit, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Stefan H. Krieger, Hofstra University School of Law

Mitchell Lasser, Cornell Law School

Mark LeBar, Philosophy, Ohio University

Brian Leiter, University of Chicago

Mary Clare Lennon, Sociology, The Graduate Center, CUNY

George Levine, Rutgers University

Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School

Margaret Levi, Pol. Sci., University of Washington and University of Sydney

Tracy Lightcap, Political Science, LaGrange College

Daniel Lipson, Political Science, SUNY New Paltz

Stacy Litz, Drexel University

Fiona de Londras, University College Dublin, Ireland

John Lunstroth, University of Houston Law Center

David Luban, Georgetown University Law Center

Peter Ludlow, Philosophy, Northwestern University

Cecelia Lynch, University of California

David Lyons, Boston University

Colin Maclay, Harvard University, Berkman Center

Joan Mahoney, Emeritus, Wayne State University Law School

Chibli Mallat, Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School

Phil Malone, Harvard Law School

Jane Mansbridge, Harvard Kennedy School

Jeff Manza, Sociology, New York University

Dan Markel, Florida State University

Daniel Markovits, Yale Law School

Richard Markovits, University of Texas Law School

Michael R. Masinter, Nova Southeastern University

Ruth Mason, University of Connecticut School of Law

Rachel A. May, University of South Florida

Jamie Mayerfeld, Political Science, University of Washington

Diane H. Mazur, University of Florida Levin College of Law

Jason Mazzone, Brooklyn Law School

Jeff McMahan, Philosophy, Rutgers University

Richard J. Meagher Jr., Randolph-Macon College

Agustín José Menéndez, Universidad de León and University of Oslo

Hope Metcalf, Yale Law School

Frank I. Michelman, Harvard University

Gary Minda, Brooklyn Law School

John Mikhail, Georgetown University Law Center

Gregg Miller, Political Science, University of Washington

Eben Moglen, Columbia Law School and Software Freedom Law Center

Immanuel Ness, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

Charles Nesson, Harvard University

Joel Ngugi, Law, African Studies, University of Washington

Ralitza Nikolaeva, ISCTE Business School, Lisbon University Institute

John Palfrey, Harvard Law School

James Paradis, Comparative Media Studies, MIT

Emma Perry, London School of Economics and Political Science

Charles Pigden, University of Otago

Adrian du Plessis, Wolfson College, Cambridge University

Patrick S. O’Donnell, Philosophy, Santa Barbara City College

Hans Oberdiek, Philosophy, Swarthmore College

Duane Oldfield, Political Science, Knox College

Michael Paris, Political Science, The College of Staten Island (CUNY)

Philip Pettit, University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton

Frank A. Pasquale, Seton Hall Law School

Matthew Pierce, University of North Carolina

Charles Pigden, Philosophy, University of Otago

Leslie Plachta, MD MPH, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Thomas Pogge, Yale University

Giovanna Pompele, University of Miami

Joel Pust, Philosophy, University of Delaware

Ulrich K. Preuss, Law& Politics, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin

Margaret Jane Radin, University of Michigan and emerita, Stanford University

Aziz Rana, Cornell University Law School

Gustav Ranis, Yale University

Rahul Rao, School of Oriental& African Studies, University of London

Calair Rasmussen, Affiliation: Political Science, University of Delaware

Daniel Ray, Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Jeff A. Redding, Saint Louis University School of Law

C. D. C. Reeve, Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Bryan Register, Philosophy, Texas State University

Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley

Cassandra Burke Robertson, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

John A. Robertson, University of Texas Law School

Corey Robin, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

Clarissa Rojas, CSU Long Beach

Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Susan Rose-Ackerman, Law, Political Science, Yale University

Norm Rosenberg, History, Macalester College

Clifford Rosky, University of Utah

Brad R. Roth, Poli. Sci. and Law, Wayne State University

Barbara Katz Rothman, Sociology, City University of New York

Bo Rothstein, Political Science, University of Gothenburg

Laura L. Rovner, University of Denver College of Law

Donald Rutherford, Philosophy, University of California, San Diego

Leonard Rubenstein, JD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Chester M. Rzadkiewicz, History, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

DeWitt Sage, Filmmaker

Cindy Skach, Comparative Government and Law, Oxford

William J. Talbott, Philosophy, University of Washington

Natsu Taylor Saito, Georgia State University College of Law

Dean Savage, Queens College, Sociology, CUNY

Kent D. Schenkel, New England Law

Kim Scheppele, Princeton Univeristy

Ben Schoenbachler, Psychiatry, University of Louisville

Jeffrey Schnapp, Harvard University

Kenneth Sherrill, Political Science, Hunter College

Claire Snyder-Hall, George Mason University

Jeffrey Selbin, Yale Law School

Wendy Seltzer, Fellow, Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy

Jose M. Sentmanat, Philosophy, Moreno Valley College, California

Omnia El Shakry, History, University of California

Scott Shapiro, Yale University

Stephen Sheehi, Languages, Lit. and Cultures, University of South Carolina

James Silk, Yale Law School

Robert D. Sloane, Boston University School of Law

Ronald C. Slye, Law, Seattle University

Matthew Noah Smith, Philosophy, Yale University

Stephen Samuel Smith, Political Science, Winthrop University

John M. Stewart, Emeritus, Psychology, Northland College

Peter G. Stillman, Vassar College

Alec Stone Sweet, Yale Law School

Robert N. Strassfeld, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, SUNY-Buffalo Law School

Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College of CUNY

Frank Thompson, University of Michigan

Matthew Titolo, West Virginia University College of Law

Massimo de la Torre, University of Hull Law School

John Torpey, CUNY Graduate Center

Vilna Bashi Treitler, Black& Hispanic Studies, Baruch College, City

Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard University

David M. Trubek, University of Wisconsin (emeritus)

Robert L. Tsai, American University, Washington College of Law

Peter Vallentyne, Philosophy, University of Missouri

Joan Vogel, Vermont Law School

Paul Voice, Philosophy, Bennington College

Victor Wallis, Berklee College of Music

David Watkins, Political Science, University of Dayton

Jonathan Weinberg, Wayne State University

Henry Weinstein, Law, Literary Journalism, University of California

Margaret Weir, Political Science,University of California, Berkeley

Christina E. Wells, University of Missouri School of Law

Danielle Wenner, Rice University

Bryan H. Wildenthal, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Langdon Winner, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Naomi Wolf, author

Lauris Wren, Hofstra Law School

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Attorney and author

Betty Yorburg, Emerita, City University of New York

Benjamin S. Yost, Philosophy, Providence College

Jonathan Zasloff, UCLA School of Law

Michael J. Zimmer, Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago

Lee Zimmerman, English, Hofstra University

Mary Marsh Zulack, Columbia Law School