For quite a while I have been pondering the decision to put young Pfc Manning into solitary confinement while the wheels of justice creak slowly forward. The explanation that the solitary confinement is necessary to keep him from suicide is not convincing. Here is a more plausible explanation based on my own experience as a Pfc in the US Army back in 1945 and 1946:
Manning represents a multi-level threat to the administration. If he’s let off with a rap on the knuckles he’ll be a hero and other bright underutilized low-level types with access to sensitive traffic may think about emulating him. If they try him and convict him of something like treason it will raise various free speech and related issues and he’ll become a martyr, a cause celebre. So the administration says we have enough headaches, let this one go away and die a natural death. The brass in the military decides that’s all very well but we must somehow make an example of the lad that will persuade other low level types in the military that they never never will do anything like he did themselves. So they slap him in solitary for a long time, maybe forever, which is a fate that any reasonably bright Pfc in our armed services will regard with horror. I know I would have.
Believe me, if the army today is anything like the one I knew, the foul fate of Bradley Manning is being passed down the line with embellishments by senior noncoms to their greener subordinates, whether or not the latter have access to much of anything more sensitive than the post newsletter. In my day it was about VD and the horrors that awaited you if had unprotected sex with the frauleins. The technique of implementing policy by scaring the bejeesus out of kids in uniform has different applications, but it has proven effective over the ages.
There are too many angles to this issue for me to take sides. I rest my case with an expression of sympathy for Manning, going slowly stir crazy.
Addendum: On April 29 the press reported that Manning has just been released from solitary to a more normal form of incarceration. The shrinks decided he wasn’t a suicide risk after all. A more likely explanation is that he was sprung from solitary because the authorities had no plausible counter to growing protests against the way he was being treated and got tired of pretending they did. (See Ann Wright’s roundup of the many voices raised on this issue).
Anyway, it was a humane thing to do.