by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich
Feb. 3, 2011
Questions Follow a Report that the Army Ignored Evidence of Mental Health Problems
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) yesterday wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking for information about reports that the Army ignored evidence of the mental health problems of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. Kucinich also asked for confirmation and explanation of reports that the Army is holding Pfc. Manning in conditions that would likely exacerbate his condition and could contribute a violation of the his Eighth Amendment right of protection from ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment.
The full text of the letter follows.
February 2, 2011
The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Gates:
This morning, The Washington Post reported that Pfc. Bradley J. Manning, the Army intelligence analyst who is accused of being the source of the WikiLeaks documents, was known by the Army to have had mental health problems even before his deployment to Iraq. “At Fort Drum, Manning balled up his fists and screamed at higher-ranking soldiers in his unit….” A “mental health specialist” recommended that he not be deployed to Iraq, “but his immediate commanders sent him anyway….”
In Iraq, evidence of his mental health problems accelerated. “[A] master sergeant who supervised Manning was so concerned about the private’s mental health that he disabled Manning’s weapon in December 2009….” “[I]n May 2010, Manning was demoted a rank for assaulting a fellow soldier….”
The Army ignored Private Manning’s mental health problems before he was arrested for leaking the documents to WikiLeaks, and the consequences of that disinterest are now obvious. Since his arrest, the Army has reportedly treated Private Manning in a way that is almost certain to exacerbate his mental health problems.
In December 2010, Glenn Greenwald reported on the conditions of Private Manning’s confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia.
Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed…. For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.
In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig’s medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.
On January 3, 2011, the Psychologists for Social Responsibility issued an “Open Letter” in which they protested the conditions of Private Manning’s incarceration “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.” Their Open Letter quotes extensively from the findings of 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”
“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.”
Today’s article states that the Army actually recognized that Private Manning had mental health problems, but deployed him to Iraq anyway. Once he was in Iraq, the Army reportedly did not adequately supervise him and allowed his mental health problems to fester. His sergeant recognized that Manning’s mental health was so compromised that he took the unusual step of disabling Manning’s weapon in a war zone.
Now, reports indicate that the Army has taken Pfc. Manning, a soldier with documented mental health problems, and confined him under conditions that are almost guaranteed to exacerbate his mental health problems. If true, the Army’s treatment would obviously constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
If these reports are true, the Army must end the extreme conditions of Private Manning’s confinement, and provide him with the mental health treatment that the Army recognized he needed even before his deployment to Iraq. At the very least, the Army must explain the justification for confining someone with mental health problems under conditions that are virtually certain to exacerbate those problems and explain the danger he now presents that only these extreme conditions of confinement can avoid.
I look forward to your response.
Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress