I spoke for about 20 minutes with Lt. Brian Villiard, from the Public Affairs Office at Quantico Prison. He had returned my call from the voice mail message I had left regarding Bradley Manning’s ‘detainment’ conditions, and Lt. Villiard was also contacted by Quantico Base Commander Colonel Daniel Choike’ s office where I had left a voicemail message.
I was surprised to get a return call, and did my best to find out what I could.
Lt. Villiard told me he returned few calls, but that he appreciated that the message I had left was respectful and non-combative. I mention this in case others wish to contact him, or any other Quantico officers, and want to be heard.
He gave me a chance to express my understanding of the current conditions of Private Bradley Manning’s confinement. I echoed the information that I had read, that Bradley is in solitary confinement, that he has not been out doors in four weeks, that he previously had been sporadically allowed only one hour of exercise time out of the cell, that he is not allowed to exercise in his cell, that lights are left on all night, and that the blanket he uses is rough, more like carpeting than a blanket.
Lt. Villiard said he’d like a chance to clear up some misconceptions, and said he had read the same information that I had. I listened, respectfully, without interrupting, but interjected questions and comments as would be normal in polite conversation. Again, I mention this because though this is difficult to do with an emotionally charged subject, respectful dialogue did allow me the opportunity to ask a number of questions, as well as make a number of comments. I wasn’t taking notes (though I should have), but will do my best to recall as much as I can.
Lt. Villiard spoke first to the charge that Bradley is held in solitary confinement, and explained that every detainee – (Bradley was never referred to as a prisoner, but rather as a “detainee”) – every detainee at Quantico is in a cell by themselves, so this is not something unique to Bradley. I asked if Bradley was allowed and able to interact with other detainees in his area, whether there were walls between cells or bars, whether or not he could see other detainees. I was told that there are walls between cells, with bars on the front of the cell. Due to the arrangement of cells, no detainee at Quantico can see another detainee – no visual contact – but that detainees could speak to one another. (I should have asked if there are currently detainees housed on either side of Bradley’s cell – someone to actually talk to – or if the possible interaction was more theoretical than actual in Bradley’s case. That is a question that should be asked. If the actual condition has Bradley purposely physically distant from any other detainees, or alone in a cell block, that is quite different than having the ability to interact.)
I asked about the charge that Bradley has not been outside in four weeks, why only (typically) an hour a day exercise was permitted, and why is there the restriction on exercising in the cell. Lt. Villiard said that it was his understanding that Bradley did have the opportunity to go outside for an hour most days, and that there may be rare exceptions when that was not available. He said that other than those rare exceptions, that if Bradley requested to go outside for his one hour per day out of the cell, that it was allowed, and did not know why Bradley had evidently chosen not to. I should stop here and note that Lt. Villiard is a public affairs officer, a liaison between the public and the base, but not a liaison between Bradley Manning and members of the public like myself. Lt. Villiard’s office is not in “the brig”, and so he was relating his understanding of the situation, not his eyewitness account. Lt. Villiard sounded sincere to me, and though he was giving me the “official word” as related by other officers, it did appear to me the Lt. Villiard believed what he had been told was accurate. He has not met or spoken with Bradley Manning, and is not on Bradley’s visitor’s list. Lt. Villiard has visited the brig, and was given a tour, but Bradley was not there at the time. More on that with the subject of the blanket.
Lt. Villiard told me that the one hour per day out of the cell was due to his listing as both a maximum custody detainee and his assessment as a POI (prevention of injury) detainee. I mentioned that it was my understanding that Bradley had been evaluated by a psychiatrist and was found not to be at risk of injuring himself or committing suicide. Lt. Villiard replied that there is a board that meets “frequently” to reassess the situation. [This is where I think the emphasis needs to be placed for upgrading Bradley's incarceration conditions! Whether it is a UN humanitarian delegation or Bradley's lawyer, Bradley NEEDS to get out from under the POI label, and I think his conditions will improve immediately.]
As for Bradley not being able to exercise in his cell, I believe that Lt. Villiard said that this too is Quantico policy with all detainees, so that they are not injured in their cells, but maybe I did not ask the question correctly and perhaps this is somewhat dependent on the ROI status. (This is another point to clarify: will a psyche reassessment, dropping the ROI label, allow Bradley the ability to exercise in his cell?
Regarding the blanket that is Bradley’s only option, Lt. Villiard said that when he was given a tour of the brig area, he held Bradley’s blanket in his hands (Bradley was away, “up north” at the time), and said that it is made from a fabric that is rip-proof (in other words, where a detainee could not rip strips and make a rope to commit suicide), and that the fabric is not rough like carpet. “I’ve slept under better; I’ve slept under worse.” was Lt. Villiard’s wording. (Clearly, Bradley needs to get off of POI listing, so he can get proper bedding.)
Lt. Villiard said that detainees in POI status are checked frequently, including nighttime hours, and that is why there are lights on. (Again, clearly, Bradley needs to get off of POI listing, so he can get normal sleep, but that assumes that there would be no other POI detainees in the same cell block, to have a chance for lights out at night – my conjecture.) I tried to engage Lt. Villiard to think about or remember a time that he himself may have spent in a hospital, and how disruptive a hospital environment is with lights on all night so that nursing staff could read monitors and charts, and how utterly exhausting a hospital stay is, primarily because it is impossible to relax into a normal pattern of sleep. Sleep deprivation is most certainly a type of torture, and between the heavy, scratchy blanket that Bradley is reporting, and the lack of a normalizing darkness during the full cycle of sleep time, the POI status does seem to me to be designed for sleep deprivation, but providing a phony humanitarian reason for it. If a detainee really was in danger of injuring himself, continual cycles of broken and light sleep would exacerbate the situation.
I failed to address the situation of Bradley having contact with national or international news either through newspaper or TV, but Bradley has already reported that the only time allocated for TV, there is no news on TV, and, that he is not allowed newspapers. This appears to me to be another form of psychological torture, and the timing of TV access to “accidentally” exclude news is certainly no accident – this must be designed to keep Bradley psychologically isolated.
I asked Lt. Villiard to pass along my concerns to Col. Choike, asking that they remember that Bradley is not only innocent until proven guilty, but that he has not even been charged with a crime yet. I told him that the conditions sound punitive, which makes no sense at this point since Bradly has not been convicted – and that no soldier deserved to be treated like this for 6 months due to not yet being charged or going to trial. I said that I realized that a military detainment is not the same as non-military incarceration, and that the public would be (and I am) upset with the conditions that all of the detainees at Quantico have to endure, if indeed they are all treated the same. I asked if he would please pass on my request for merciful treatment, and mentioned again that seven months was a long time to endure those conditions, especially for someone who is simply awaiting trial. I asked when the trial would be, and he was not aware if any date had been set. I thanked Lt. Villiard for taking the time to speak with me.
My conclusion: Bradley’s lawyer needs to redouble his efforts to get Bradly reevaluated with an outcome of dropping the POI. Outcries from the public are basically falling on deaf ears, because all detainees at Quantico get the same treatment – or at least that is the official line. Bradley’s only real chance at improved conditions revolve around the dropping of the POI status. Humanitarian efforts should, in my opinion, be centered around pressuring the board to actually meet quickly in this case (regardless of their normal cycle of meeting) and of successfully getting the POI status dropped.
If you’re going to call, or write, I urge you to show respect, avoid declaring your demands, (remember you’re talking to or writing to Marines at the US’s main military detention facility), and you’ll at least have a chance for a dialogue.