New torture fears as Manning put on suicide watch

US military officials yesterday denied allegations that Bradley Manning, the US army private accused of passing classified papers to whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks, has been tortured in custody.

Fears over Manning's welfare were renewed after it emerged that the commander of the military brig at which Manning is being held had violated prison procedures by placing the private on suicide watch.

Military officials confirmed that Brig Commander James Averhart had no authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week - a decision that can only be made by medical personnel.

Averhart made the decision after Manning had allegedly failed to follow orders from prison guards.

The 23-year-old was confined to his cell, stripped of most of his clothing and deprived of anything that could be used to harm himself, including his reading glasses.

The suicide watch was later lifted at the insistence of US Army lawyers.

Manning's treatment at the facility in Quantico, Virginia - where he is confined to his cell for 23 hours a day and denied both a pillow and sheets on his bed - has been described as amounting to "torture".

In an article on Salon.com, commentator Glenn Greenwald claimed that Manning has been "subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation."

Manning's welfare in custody was the subject of a question put to spokesman Robert Gibbs at yesterday's White House press briefing by ABC newsman Jake Tapper.

Human rights group Amnesty International recently condemned Manning's detention as "inhumane".

News has also emerged that a friend and long-term visitor to Manning in prison was prevented from gaining access to the soldier on Sunday after guards at the military brig in Quantico pulled him up on a traffic violation.

David House was detained for two hours and his ID repeatedly examined, after it was discovered that the registration tags on the vehicle he was travelling in had expired.

Film maker Jane Hamsher, who was with House at the time, details what she calls a campaign of "harrassment" against Manning's friend on her blog, Firedoglake.com.

Last November, House was held by US customs officials at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on his way back from holiday in Mexico. Agents searched his bags and questioned him for 90 minutes about his relationship to Manning.