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Is Suspected Wikileaks Source's Solitary Confinement Torture?

For the past five months, U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning has spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in the brig at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., as punishment for allegedly handing over top-secret documents to Wikileaks . Now, Bradley is being brought out of confinement for a mental evaluation. Even without that examination, one doctor says the cruel punishment is torture.

Although no date is set for his evaluation, the Army has convened a special board to test his mental state, according to the Washington Times. The Army maintains that Manning is being treated humanely, but some scientists see the private's living conditions as a form of torture.

"Could it be torture? I think we've already made that argument," said Scott Allen, a professor of medicine at Brown University and co-author of a torture critique published today (Jan. 6) in the journal Science, which argues that not only have U.S. enhanced interrogation techniques been unethical, some of the science used to support them is flawed.

Allen and his colleagues published a paper in August 2010 for the nonprofit organization Physicians for Human Rights that looked at solitary confinement and torture. "We looked at the medical evidence of what prolonged isolation does to people, and then we compared our medical analysis with [those of] lawyers who are experts in the definition of torture," Allen told Life's Little Mysteries.

What they found: Solitary confinement causes psychological harm consistent with torture. In order to be legally classified as torture, however, the intent must be proven. For cases such as Manning's, intent is not obvious, Allen said. Instead, this is typically referred to as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, he said.

"Typically the protocols [for solitary confinement] are 23 hours' lockdown in a very small cell with limited natural light and no outside exposure except for an hour a day, usually in a cage," Allen said. This involves "extreme isolation and it also involves some level of sensory deprivation."

"And it can lead to anxiety, depression, certainly disorientation, [and] it can even lead to thought disorders including psychotic thoughts ," Allen said. "The consequences can be significant."

Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California Santa Cruz who has studied the psychological effects of incarceration agrees that the fallout from solitary confinement can be severe. "It depends on the circumstances and the person, of course. There are some people who experience what has been termed 'isolation panic'

Michelle writes about technology and chemistry for Live Science. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the Salisbury University, a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and a degree in Science Journalism from New York University. She is an active Muay Thai kickboxer at Five Points Academy and loves exploring NYC with friends.