I have written many times before about how the US prison system imposes needlessly cruel conditions on those unfortunate enough to get caught in its clutches, The latest example of this is that whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been sent to prison again and is being kept in solitary confinement, a practice that most civilized nations consider barbaric and torture. The US government hates Manning with a passion because she exposed the murderous actions of its troops in Iraq.
Manning was jailed on 8 March for refusing to testify before a Virginia grand jury investigating WikiLeaks, the transparency organization to which she leaked thousands of US military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
She said she objected to the secrecy of the grand jury process and had revealed everything she knows at her court martial. After that process, Manning served seven years of a 35-year sentence that Barack Obama commuted in 2017.
Manning was treated extremely harshly during her first period of incarceration and critics have pointed out that there is absolutely no justification for keeping her in solitary confinement this time around except as an additional form of cruel punishment.
“We condemn the solitary confinement that Chelsea Manning has been subjected to during her incarceration at William G Truesdale adult detention center,” a committee of supporters said in a statement on Saturday.
Manning has been held in administrative segregation, or “adseg”, with up to 22 hours each day spent in isolation, for the duration of her detention.
Manning’s supporters said: “The jail says keeping ‘high-profile’ prisoners in adseg is policy for the protection of all prisoners, but there is no reason to believe jail officials view Chelsea as either a target or a risk.
“If Truesdale wants to prioritize Chelsea’s health and welfare, as they consistently claim, then they should make sure she is able to have contact with other people in the jail.”
Extended periods of solitary confinement “amount to torture”, according to the United Nations special rapporteur Juan Méndez, who has argued that “solitary confinement should be banned by states as a punishment or extortion technique”.
Manning’s supporters said: “Chelsea is a principled person, and she has made clear that while this kind of treatment will harm her, and will almost certainly leave lasting scars, it will never make her change her mind about cooperating with the grand jury”.
The US incarcerates a vastly greater percentage of its population than any other developed nation and treats them much worse and this has no correlation with the rates of crime. It seems like we do this just to satisfy our desire for vengeance and to keep the prison industry well endowed.
Commenter avalus provided a link to an excellent talk by Jeff Rosen comparing the humane way that Germany treats its prisoners with how the US does, because its constitution demands that the government respect the dignity of people. Rosen is the descendant of Holocaust survivors and says that if a country like Germany could reverse course so dramatically from the horrors it perpetrated in its concentration camps to the humane way it treats prisoners now, why can’t the US? But it will require a radical change in thinking.
Rosen ends with a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
That judgment will not be kind to the US.