Last week, whistleblower Chelsea Manning was released from solitary confinement (euphemistically called “administrative segregation”) into the general population of Alexandria, Virginia’s Truesdale Detention Center after 28 days.
Manning is back in U.S. federal custody after refusing to testify before a grand jury for a case involving Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. She previously admitted to leaking thousands of state department documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, including the famous “Collateral Murder” video showing a U.S. strike on unarmed men in New Baghdad. Her leaks also exposed that more civilians died in Iraq than the United States had previously stated and revealed accusations regarding detainees in Guantanamo. As a reward for exposing U.S. war crimes and bringing international attention to the atrocities carried out by the United States around the world, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison. Although President Obama commuted her sentence after seven years, she was still incarcerated longer than anyone else in U.S. history for leaks, according to the New York Times.
The grand jury that Manning refuses to testify in is investigating Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, an investigation that was terminated under the Obama administration due to fears that it could threaten the First Amendment rights of journalists. In a statement posted on her Twitter, Manning said that all of the questions were already answered in her 2013 court martial hearing, and she objected to the secret nature of the grand jury hearings. Since then, Julian Assange has been arrested in London and charged with conspiring to commit unlawful computer intrusion, meaning that he encouraged Manning to log into a classified military network with another user’s credentials. His arrest means that the grand jury hearings are no longer needed, and presumably Chelsea Manning should be released. As of writing this, she still sits in prison.
Chelsea Manning is just one of thousands of inmates kept in solitary confinement in the United States. As a whistleblower, she certainly doesn’t deserve to be tortured — but neither does anyone else in prison. Regardless of the nature of an inmate’s offense, cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited by the constitution and is also morally wrong. Isolating someone from human contact for years on end is clearly inhumane.
Amnesty International released a report calling for the end of prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. In the report, they explain the widespread use of solitary in U.S. prisons and the devastating effects it can have. In California alone, more than 3,000 prisoners are in solitary, meaning they spend at least 22.5 hours a day in single cells with no work, rehabilitation programs or group activities. More than 500 inmates spent 10 or more years in solitary. While they are the worst offender, California is not the only state to engage in this abuse of prisoners. According to Amnesty International, at least 25,000 prisoners are held in solitary throughout the United States, including at Guantanamo Bay.
Solitary confinement is a violation of international human rights law as “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) technically has a law prohibiting the use of solitary confinement; however, the practice is still commonly used. A 2017 Department of Justice report found that the BOP houses mentally ill patients in solitary for years at a time, despite evidence that this can be psychologically harmful. The inspector general found that the BOP could not accurately treat or keep track of patients with mental illnesses kept in solitary. He cited research that even in inmates with no previous history of mental illness, “isolation can cause anxiety, depression, anger, paranoia and psychosis in prisoners.” Prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement have more difficulty re-entering society and are more likely to reoffend.
Despite clear evidence that solitary confinement can cause long-lasting damage and even increase the likelihood of reoffending, U.S. prisons continue to use this torturous practice. No one deserves to be held in isolation for years on end, and Chelsea Manning should not be tortured for exposing U.S. war crimes.