[JURIST] The UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez [official website] last week formally accused [text, PDF] the US government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards Pfc. Bradly Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive], the US soldier held in solitary confinement for nearly a year based on his alleged involvement in WikiLeaks [official website; JURIST news archive], the largest intelligence leak in US history. In assessing information that Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for about 11 months, Mendez stated that “solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of specific conclusions.” Ultimately, Mendez found [Guardian report] that imposing such seriously punitive conditions of detention on a person who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as his presumption of innocence. Depending on the conditions, he added, confinement may amount to a breach of the torture and degrading treatment prohibitions under Article 7 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights [text], and it may also qualify as “torture” under Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture [text]. Although the US government has previously tried to justify Manning’s confinement by calling it “prevention of harm watch,” the military has not yet offered any details as to what actual harm was being prevented.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s formal allegations against the US government come after a 14-month investigation into the treatment of Manning since his arrest in May 2010. He was formally charged [JURIST report] in February with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, under the Espionage Act [text], and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. In May 2011, General Counsel for the US Department of Defense [official website] wrote Mendez a letter [text, PDF] in response to various UN inquiries explaining that Manning’s treatment in confinement had been satisfactory and in accordance with “all other pretrial detainees.” Prior to this, in January 2011, the US mission to the UN in Geneva [official website] wrote [text, PDF] to Mendez stressing that the US would continue its commitment to protecting human rights both at home and abroad, and that the US values the work of the special rapporteur. The US, however, conceded that further coordination would need to be made before responding to Mendez’s concerns involving Manning’s treatment, which he made clear in his opening letter [text, PDF] to the US government in December 2010. Manning was initially charged [JURIST report] in June 2010 for releasing a classified video and documents. Controversy surrounding his confinement drew quick and ongoing criticism from US legal scholars [Guardian report], including Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe [official profile], the man who taught President Barack Obama [official website] constitutional law.