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Psychologists for Social Responsibility open letter to Robert Gates on Manning’s confinement

2011-01-04 14 comments

Psychologists for Social Responsibility has issued an open letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding Bradley Manning’s treatment in custody, stating:

Psychologists for Social Responsibility is deeply concerned about the pretrial detention conditions of alleged Wikileaks source PFC Bradley Manning, including solitary confinement for over five months, a forced lack of exercise, and possible sleep deprivation. It has been reported by his attorney and a visitor that Manning’s mental health is suffering from his treatment.

The full letter follows.

PsySR Open Letter on PFC Bradley Manning’s Solitary Confinement

January 3, 2011

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
100 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) is deeply concerned about the conditions under which PFC Bradley Manning is being held at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. It has been reported and verified by his attorney that PFC Manning has been held in solitary confinement since July of 2010. He reportedly is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day, a cell approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length, with a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet. For no discernable reason other than punishment, he is forbidden from exercising in his cell and is provided minimal access to exercise outside his cell. Further, despite having virtually nothing to do, he is forbidden to sleep during the day and often has his sleep at night disrupted.

As an organization of psychologists and other mental health professionals, PsySR is aware that solitary confinement can have severely deleterious effects on the psychological well-being of those subjected to it. We therefore call for a revision in the conditions of PFC Manning’s incarceration while he awaits trial, based on the exhaustive documentation and research that have determined that solitary confinement is, at the very least, a form of cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment in violation of U.S. law.

In the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court case Medley, Petitioner, 134 U.S. 1690 (1890), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller wrote, “A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.” Scientific investigations since 1890 have confirmed in troubling detail the irreversible physiological changes in brain functioning from the trauma of solitary confinement.

As expressed by Dr. Craig Haney, a psychologist and expert in the assessment of institutional environments, “Empirical research on solitary and supermax-like confinement has consistently and unequivocally documented the harmful consequences of living in these kinds of environments . . . Evidence of these negative psychological effects comes from personal accounts, descriptive studies, and systematic research on solitary and supermax-type confinement, conducted over a period of four decades, by researchers from several different continents who had diverse backgrounds and a wide range of professional expertise… [D]irect studies of prison isolation have documented an extremely broad range of harmful psychological reactions. These effects include increases in the following potentially damaging symptoms and problematic behaviors: negative attitudes and affect, insomnia, anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hypersensitivity, ruminations, cognitive dysfunction, hallucinations, loss of control, irritability, aggression, and rage, paranoia, hopelessness, lethargy, depression, a sense of impending emotional breakdown, self-mutilation, and suicidal ideation and behavior” (pp. 130-131, references removed).

Dr. Haney concludes, “To summarize, there is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which non-voluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will that failed to result in negative psychological effects” (p. 132).

We are aware that prison spokesperson First Lieutenant Brian Villiard has told AFP that Manning is considered a “maximum confinement detainee,” as he is considered a national security risk. But no such putative risk can justify keeping someone not convicted of a crime in conditions likely to cause serious harm to his mental health. Further, history suggests that solitary confinement, rather than being a rational response to a risk, is more often used as a punishment for someone who is considered to be a member of a despised or “dangerous” group. In any case, PFC Manning has not been convicted of a crime and, under our system of justice, is at this point presumed to be innocent.

The conditions of isolation to which PFC Manning, as well as many other U.S. prisoners are subjected, are sufficiently harsh as to have aroused international concern. The most recent report of the UN Committee against Torture included in its Conclusions and Recommendations for the United States the following article 36:

“The Committee remains concerned about the extremely harsh regime imposed on detainees in “supermaximum prisons”. The Committee is concerned about the prolonged isolation periods detainees are subjected to, the effect such treatment has on their mental health, and that its purpose may be retribution, in which case it would constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 16).

The State party should review the regime imposed on detainees in “supermaximum prisons”, in particular the practice of prolonged isolation.” (Emphasis in original.)

In addition to the needless brutality of the conditions to which PFC Manning is being subjected, PsySR is concerned that the coercive nature of these conditions — along with their serious psychological effects such as depression, paranoia, or hopelessness — may undermine his ability to meaningfully cooperate with his defense, undermining his right to a fair trial. Coercive conditions of detention also increase the likelihood of the prisoner “cooperating” in order to improve those circumstances, even to the extent of giving false testimony. Thus, such harsh conditions are counter to the interests of justice.

Given the nature and effects of the solitary confinement to which PFC Manning is being subjected, Mr. Secretary, Psychologists for Social Responsibility calls upon you to rectify the inhumane, harmful, and counterproductive treatment of PFC Bradley Manning immediately.


Trudy Bond, Ph.D.
Psychologists for Social Responsibility Steering Committee

Stephen Soldz, Ph.D.
President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

For the Psychologists for Social Responsibility Steering Committee



  • Nicki

    Thank You.

    Bradley Mannig deserves so much better that to be treated WORSE than a vicious animal.

    the best thing for obama would be a PRESIDENTIAL PARDON.

    If he ever heard of such thing.

    Forget the nobel peace prize, this kid has suffered enough. PARDON HIM!

    2011-01-04 05:03
  • Beryl Williams

    I write to ask you to kindly spare the time to examine the treatment being meted out to Bradley Manning in prison.
    Apparently he is not being granted the minimum human rights of any prisoner, due to an alleged offence which is merely political, and not a crime against society or humanity as such. It appears that his mental health has been impaired due to this treatment, which is contrary to the terms of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights.
    I would urge you to ensure that he be allowed adequate exercise, a cell which is of reasonable size, and equipped, such as to be conducive to his sanity, that he be given access to literature, if not the media, and that his psychological and mental health be positively addressed by professionals.
    Whatever his crimes against the machinations of the State, and whatever justification there may be for his detention at this time, this young man does not deserve to have his sanity impaired due to the conditions of his detention. I would therefore repeat, I urge you to remedy his living conditions at your very earliest convenience.
    Thank you in anticipation of your kind concern, in the name of humanity.

    2011-01-04 05:38
  • Sairz

    I understand that when he joined the military, he lost all his rights, but when you act out (allegedly) against a government who is acting against it’s general purpose; then I think all actions are justified. Sadly, he made the choice to trust another person who told on him. The problem is that the way our military is treating him is on par with a bunch of high school bullies beating up the school nerd in the locker room showers out of the view of anyone who would or could help. I think the greeting of “honorable” for the beginning of this letter was a horrible lie, there’s no honor in treating a person like we treat our mass produced food stock. I am so ashamed to live in this country these days.

    2011-01-04 07:19

    Nobel Peace Prize indeed. I have lost all respect for Barack who does not appear to have the ability to think independently. Commander in Chief is a confusing name bestowed on US of A presidents methinks.

    2011-01-04 21:45
  • Celia Harrison

    Do they send these letters for the thousands of others held in these kinds of conditions and much worse in the prisons in the U.S.? Manning gets some things others don’t. This kind of treatment is horrendous for everyone, we should be protesting all over the country about what goes on in the justice system and prisons.

    2011-01-08 04:20
  • Foggy

    It’s easy to see what the people want! No one wants this kind of shit going on. Like Celia says, Mannings situation is far from a rare one! But whilst we know what’s right, and we know what should be happening in these scenarios, it’s the government, the people in control, that want to keep the truth away from us.

    Fuck that, and fuck them! If you’ve just been assassinated, or you’ve been shoved into prison, it would seem your on the right tracks to doing a good thing! Mannings is a true hero. And although it wouldn’t see that way if you believed the daily newspapers, that is a very rare trait in the army. In fact, it’s getting pretty damn rare in the whole world.

    Well I haven’t got the power to do anything about it, it’s true. But if you are the Vice President or someone high up on politics and you’re reading this-you do have the power! You can do something about it, and until people truly stand up to it, the real hero’s are gonna keep getting arrested or shot. This is FAR from what Bradley deserves!

    Keep it real

    2011-01-08 18:48
  • Silver Wolf

    Really? US citizens being held under control by terror?

    Isn’t that called dictatorship?

    2011-01-11 21:59
  • Judith

    Bradley Manning is one of 50,000 people in our prisons who is being held in solitary confinement, although I do not know if they are deprived moving around in the day time to do exercise, or a blanket and pillow on his bed. He is being psychologically tortured hoping that he will not be able to aid in his own defense. I have great sympathy for him.
    It is interesting that Obama will go to bat for Michael Vick the pit bull fighter who hung or shot the losing dogs after making them fight until their skin was ripped off, and often killed during the fight while the attendees cheered for more blood to support his getting his position back with the Eagles and go to bat for his having another dog. But Obama does not care about the children in Gaza who were dying when he came into office, nor does he care about them now. He has never spoken out against the crimes that Israel commits with our governments permission and nod and $3billion a year in foreign aid to one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
    WikiLeak records may very well expose the career criminals who have a tight hold on our government. If Manning had anything to do with it, he would deserve a metal of honor. Did Daniel Ellsberg to to prison under these conditions, no, because our government has become the mean violator of human rights. Obama promised our rights restored that were illegally and criminally taken under a false pretences in the Patriot Act. I donated to his candidacy, and voted for him under the promises he made. It should be criminal to lie about your intentions to get elected, when you have no intentions of fulfilling them.
    Yet, here is poor Manning being treated in my opinion illegally in a military jail. The Wikileaks which Manning may or may not have had anything to do with since he has not had the benefit of a trial can rot in jail if Mrs. Clinton, Gates, and Obama can arrange it.
    Maybe you can have someone pull his toenails off which would give some of the pro torture people some feelings of power. Frankly, as a 68year old woman I am terrified at what our government has become and what they are willing to do.
    This is indeed a very sad day in American history because we all know that we have been overtaken by a bloodless coup when the Supreme Court appointed GW Bush as President before Florida could complete their count.
    You want to add me to your terrorist list for writing this, do what you feel necessary. I am so ashamed of my country in front of the whole world, and know that they have lost respect for us. You have put us in grave danger of invasion because of the more than a million lives you have taken without cause and without regret. The wrong person is in jail.

    2011-01-11 23:22
  • Nick

    This is completely hypocritical of the US. We charge the cogs of the Nazi Party with death for following orders, when we argue that they should have disobeyed them because they were fundamentally wrong, yet we prosecute PFC Manning for doing the exact opposite under conditions that aren’t too far off from what the defendants in the Nuremburg Trials faced? Everything the US has said in its defense of the sickening treatment of PFC Manning is clearly showing its lack of respect for democracy and the system our founding fathers implemented. The Constitution was meant to be revised periodically-I say we add a clause specifically for our nation protecting whistleblowers. Maybe next time, we won’t have another Iraq or Vietnam.

    2011-01-12 04:46
  • william j gilson

    As a US Navy veteran of the Korean War I commend you on your letter to Sec.Gates on behalf of Bradlley Manning on his cruel & inhumane treatment. As a Veteran For Peace I spend my life working on the torture issue at Guantanamo and inside US prisons.I am not alone in believing that these methods constitute torture. Continue to speak out-even if your voice shakes! bill gilson veterans for peace. chpt.034 nyc.

    2011-01-15 15:57
  • Campbell Lindsay

    The majority of our govornment are hypocrites. This is a violation of human rights, for which we fought numerous wars, and is what our govornment SHOULD stand for, but does act accordingly . He shouldn’t be in confinement. His imprisoners should be!
    Hang in there Brad

    2011-01-15 22:10
  • carolyn sylvester

    May our Lord Jesus be in his cell with him, we pray a miracle healing of his body and mind all for the Glory of the Lord who is able to all things. Lord send ministering angels to his side. Thank you Jesus . He says He will never leave you or forsake you. I pray for the enemy to be convited of the horrible things done to Manning. that he has a change of command. RELEASE is the word. We all must pray for this young man. That our President moves quickly.

    2011-01-15 23:01
  • Whitey Bulger

    @Nikki: Can you pardon someone who hasnt been convicted of a crime? When did that rule change? Sheesh…I need to keep up!

    2011-01-17 16:06
  • Alice Shaw

    To educate the public and appeal for justice and compliance with basic human rights under national and international law is crucial. How many Americans are turning a blind eye to the kind of illegal and unethical abuse to which Private Manning is being subjected within our national borders?

    2011-01-30 11:16

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