letter to quantico

In the interests of boosting the signal on this letter, I am reproducing it below. It is from retired Marine Corps captain David C. MacMichael, the former commander of Headquarters Company at Quantico, where Bradley Manning is currently being held.

I would also like to take the opportunity to point out that Manning is hardly the only one being held in similar conditions. In The lonely battle against solitary confinement, James Ridgeway and Jean Casella point out how widespread the practice of solitary confinement — not to mention held without charges, and held without definite date of trial — is. After outlining a number of cases with points of similarity to Manning’s, they say:

All of these cases are “exceptional” – but only in that they earned the attention of some journalist or advocate. Most prisoners held in solitary confinement are, by design, silent and silenced. Most of their stories – tens of thousands of them – are never told at all. Since solitary confinement is now used as a disciplinary measure of first resort in prisons and jails throughout the country, it is anything but exceptional. Inmates are placed in isolation for months or years not only for fighting with other inmates or guards, but for being “disruptive” or disobeying orders, or for having contraband (which can be a joint, a cellphone, or too many postage stamps). In many prisons, juveniles and rape victims are isolated “for their own protection” in conditions identical to those used for punishment.

Definite food for thought. The issue of prisons has certainly been more prominent in recent years, most particularly for overcrowding and cost issues and is certainly coming to a head in California (Maybe Now for Prison Reform?). Consequently, very likely to do so in other states in the near future.

Here is Captain MacMicheal’s letter:

General James F. Amos
Commandant of the Marine Corps
3000 Marine Corps Pentagon
Washington DC 20350-3000

Dear General Amos:

As a former regular Marine Corps captain, a Korean War combat veteran, now retired on Veterans Administration disability due to wounds suffered during that conflict, I write you to protest and express concern about the confinement in the Quantico Marine Corps Base brig of US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Manning, if the information I have is correct, is charged with having violated provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by providing to unauthorized persons, among them specifically one Julian Assange and his organization Wikileaks, classified information relating to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department communications. This seems straightforward enough and sufficient to have Manning court-martialed and if found guilty sentenced in accordance with the UCMJ.

What concerns me here, and I hasten to admit that I respect Manning’s motives, is the manner in which the legal action against him is being conducted. I wonder, in the first place, why an Army enlisted man is being held in a Marine Corps installation. Second, I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system. Third, I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement — solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc. — are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, US or international.

Indeed, I have to wonder why the Marine Corps has put itself, or allowed itself to be put, in this invidious and ambiguous situation. I can appreciate that the decision to place Manning in a Marine Corps facility may not have been one over which you had control. However, the conditions of his confinement in the Quantico brig are very clearly under your purview, and, if I may say so, these bring little credit either to you or your subordinates at the Marine Corps Base who impose these conditions.

It would be inappropriate, I think, to use this letter, in which I urge you to use your authority to make the conditions of Pfc. Manning’s confinement less extreme, to review my Marine Corps career except to note that my last duty prior to resigning my captain’s commission in 1959 was commanding the headquarters company at Quantico. More relevantly, during the 1980s, following a stint as a senior estimates officer in the CIA, I played a very public role as a “whistleblower “ in the Iran-contra affair. At that time, I wondered why Lt. Col. Oliver North, who very clearly violated the UCMJ — and, in my opinion, disgraced our service — was not court-martialed.

When I asked the Navy’s Judge-Advocate General’s office why neither North nor Admiral Poindexter were charged under the UCMJ, the JAG informed me that when officers were assigned to duties in the White House, NSC, or similar offices they were somehow not legally in the armed forces. To my question why, if that were the case, they continued to draw their military pay and benefits, increase their seniority, be promoted while so serving, and, spectacularly in North’s case, appear in uniform while testifying regarding violations of US law before Congress, I could get no answer beyond, “That’s our policy.”

This is not to equate North’s case with Manning. It is only to suggest that equal treatment under the law is one of those American principles that the Marine Corps exists to protect. This is something you might consider.


David C. MacMichael

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