A new jail for Bradley Manning – but the controversy rages on

Private Bradley Manning left his tiny cell in a United States Marine Corps prison for a long-term military detention centre in Kansas yesterday, as the Pentagon tried to cut short a deepening controversy that was turning into a stain on the reputation of Barack Obama's administration.

The transfer of Pte Manning, suspected of leaking thousands of classified cables to the WikiLeaks website, from the Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, where he has been held since last June, to the main Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, was hastily announced by senior Defence Department officials on Tuesday evening. In the last few months, the harsh detention conditions of Pte Manning, as yet convicted of no crime and whose trial appears to be months away, have generated bewilderment and mounting anger in the US and abroad.

Publicly, the Pentagon continues to insist that no mistakes have been made, despite the 23-year-old soldier's confinement in a 6ft-by-12ft cell, removal of his clothes and a regime of intrusive, round-the-clock surveillance. The conditions were "in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects," Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's general counsel, said on Tuesday.

But critics at home and abroad disagreed. In recent weeks, Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture have spoken out on the issue, with the latter delivering a virtually unprecedented censure of the US after he was denied access to Pte Manning at Quantico.

In a blistering off-the-record attack in March, the then State Department spokesman PJ Crowley described Pte Manning's treatment as "ridiculous, counter-productive and stupid". That language cost Mr Crowley his job – but also forced a discomfited Mr Obama to come to the Pentagon's defence during a White House press conference.

Yesterday Amnesty vowed to keep up the pressure. "We will be watching how he is treated very closely," Susan Lee, the human rights group's Americas programme director, said in a statement. Until such an assessment takes place, "it is still not possible to know... what restrictions he will be under at the new detention centre".

Pte Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, wrote on his blog: "While the defence hopes that the move to Fort Leavenworth will result in the improvement of Pfc Manning's conditions of confinement, it nonetheless intends to pursue redress at the appropriate time for the flagrant violations of his constitutional rights by the Quantico confinement facility."

The last straw may have been a letter due to appear in the next issue of The New York Review of Books, signed by almost 300 US and foreign legal scholars. It denounces Pte Manning's treatment as a violation of the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishment", and on the Fifth Amendment guarantee against punishment without trial.

As a former professor of constitutional law, it notes, Mr Obama of all people should be aware of these dangers: "The question now is whether his conduct as Commander-in-Chief meets fundamental standards of decency."

It also gives a graphic description of how Pte Manning was held at Quantico, locked alone in his cell for 23 hours each 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."

At one point, he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell for a week. In the day, he also had to undress and wear a kind of smock – all because Pte Manning was considered a suicide risk, a claim that the prisoner himself and military psychiatrists have disputed.

He has told his lawyers he believes his harsh treatment was retribution by the brig authorities after a protest in his support outside Quantico. But many legal experts suspect it was also intended to pressure him into providing evidence that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was prime mover in a conspiracy.


November 2009 Bradley Manning contacts WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for the first time.

February-April 2010 Manning allegedly sends damaging footage of a US air strike to WikiLeaks, which publishes it as "Collateral Murder" on 5 April.

July 2010 Manning is charged with leaking the video and secret diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

March 2011 Twenty-two new charges are brought against Manning, including "aiding the enemy" (punishable by death). He accuses Virginia brig jailers of "unlawful pre-trial punishment" including stripping him naked every night.

April 2011 Manning is moved to a Kansas jail after international criticism over his treatment in Virginia.

Tough times await him at 'The Castle'

Fort Leavenworth occupies two very different places in US military lore. It is the traditional home of some of the Army's heaviest intellectual firepower, including the Army Command and General Staff College, headed between 2005 and 2007 by General David Petraeus, who is regarded as the country's greatest expert on counter-insurgency warfare. But it is also synonymous with imprisonment.

There are no less than three jail facilities on the sprawling site on the eastern edge of Kansas, some 30 miles north-west of Kansas City. One is a federal civilian prison that once housed some of the country's most notorious criminals. The other two are military – and one of them will have Private Bradley Manning as an inmate for the foreseeable future.

The most forbidding of them is the United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB), the Army's only maximum-security prison, often referred to as "The Castle". Detainees have been convicted by a court-martial and are serving terms of at least five years. Notable past inmates include Lieutenant William Calley, convicted for the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war. Charles Graner, who is serving a 10-year sentence in connection with the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq, is currently held there. It also contains the US military's death row. The last military execution at Fort Leavenworth was in 1961.

The USDB is modern and relatively spacious. But it is maximum security, and perhaps not the ideal destination for someone who has not been tried.

A more suitable alternative might be the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, also on Fort Leavenworth's grounds. It is medium security, and normally houses those awaiting trial.

Rupert Cornwell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific