The second element of Manning’s classification is “prevention-of-injury watch,” essentially a lesser form of suicide watch. Here’s how Coombs described the implications of this classification:
The guards check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay; PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or he is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure that he is okay. He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell. He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep. When he goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his underwear and surrender his clothing to the guards.
(The Department of Defense disputes some aspects of this summary — it says, for example, that Manning has a pillow — but you get the idea.)
Again, these measures would be defensible if Manning were actually a danger to himself. But the brig’s own mental-health professionals say he is not a suicide risk. Again prison officials have used their discretion to override these determinations.
The final exercise of discretion is less clearly problematic. Evidently, in January, Manning remarked — sarcastically, according to Coombs — that if he really wanted to kill himself, he could use the elastic band of his underwear. In response, prison officials put him on full suicide watch for several days and stripped him naked before bed each night; now, he’s allowed to wear only a special garment. From a distance, of course, it is not possible to tell how clear Manning’s sarcasm was.
Manning stands accused of a serious crime: The leaking of classified documents cannot be tolerated in a country that hopes to protect its citizens from foreign threats. Further, liberals exaggerate when they refer to Manning’s “solitary confinement.” Nonetheless, Manning is an American citizen in an American detention facility, and he has not yet been convicted. There is no excuse for subjecting him to harsh conditions, so long as he poses no threat to himself or others. The American people deserve an explanation as to why Manning remains in maximum custody and on prevention-of-injury watch.
— Robert VerBruggen is an associate editor of National Review.