Letter to Senators Webb and Warner Regarding Pfc Manning

December 15, 2010

(updated below)

Pfc Bradley Manning, accused of leaking secret documents to the Wikileaks web site, was being held by the U.S. military under conditions that were brought to public attention by Glenn Greenwald, one of the finest independent journalists working in our time. I was moved to write this letter immediately upon reading his report. This is the letter to Senator Webb; the same letter was sent also to Senator Mark Warner. Many join in mass mailings to congress over one cause or another, but it is my experience that a personal, civil, and succinct letter to one's representative is likeliest to receive attention. Sadly, the publicity brought to bear on the military on this issue did not seem to result in those responsible doing their duty to the law and Constitution.

Senator Jim Webb
248 Russell Senate Office Building
Washing DC 20510

In Re: Pfc Bradley Manning

Dear Senator Webb,

I am writing to you today as a constituent and as a proud veteran of the United States Army. It has come to my attention that the young soldier accused of leaking documents to Wikileaks is being held under conditions that warrant your immediate attention.

Specifically, Pfc Manning is being held in solitary confinement with no human contact for 23 of every 24 hours. Within his bare cell, without pillow or bedding, he is barred from any recreational activity, even exercise, and is under constant surveillance to enforce these restrictions.

This may not sound very serious to you. I refer you to the testimony of your colleague, Senator John McCain, who reported of his own experience that “It's an awful thing, solitary...It crushes your spirit.” A U.S. Military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

Most civilized nations recognize that extreme isolation is a form of torture, and prohibit solitary confinement for all but the most dangerous and unmanageable prisoners. Pfc Manning, though accused, does not stand convicted of any crime. Moreover, he is reported to be a model prisoner, with no behavioral problems. Subjecting him to extreme and punitive treatment as our government is doing brings disgrace on the United States Army, and reflects dishonor on the United States of America.

I call upon you as my representative to investigate this matter with urgency, and to ensure that Pfc Manning and all prisoners in military custody are treated with the dignity they are owed as human beings, and that their rights under our Constitution are not violated by those whose first duty, like yours, is to that very document.


Becker Sidney Smith
Appomattox, Virginia

UPDATE 20 March 2011:


I received a reply from Senator Warner, and I have reproduced a scanned image of it below. I consider it non-responsive. During the three months it took Senator Warner to send me his non-response, the conditions under which Pfc Manning is being held have worsened, and now include forced nudity. As Greenwald has pointed out, this treatment only makes sense if understood as an effort to deter would-be whistle-blowers by making clear that they will be dealt with harshly and without regard for standard legal protections.

Many organizations including Amnesty International have called for protests, and today several people were arrested at Quantico Marine Corps Base protesting Manning's treatment. The Washington Post, perhaps the most government-friendly national newspaper, has editorialized that his treatment is “uncomfortably close to the kind of intimidating and humiliating tactics disavowed after the abuses at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons that eroded the country’s standing in the world.” The ACLU issued a letter to Defense Secretary Gates arguing that the treatment “violates fundamental constitutional norms.” Law professors at both Harvard and Yale have condemned it as “illegal and immoral.”

Meanwhile, the one official of the Obama administration who was willing to go on the record criticizing Manning's treatment was promptly fired by President Obama, who when asked about Manning's treatment at a subsequent news conference said that he had asked the Pentagon if Manning's treatment met “basic standards,” and had accepted their assurance that it does.

I have not heard from the office of Senator Webb.

Letter from Senator Warnerfinis