Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Shameful Abuse of Bradley Manning

"No-Touch" Torture at Quantico
The Shameful Abuse of Bradley Manning


President Obama tells us that he's asked the Pentagon whether the
conditions of confinement of Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with
leaking state secrets, "are appropriate and are meeting our basic
standards. They assure me that they are."

If Obama believes that, he'll believe anything. I would hope he would know
better than to ask the perpetrators whether they've been behaving
appropriately. I can just hear President Nixon saying to a press
conference the same thing: "I was assured by the White House Plumbers that
their burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's doctor in Los Angeles
was appropriate and met basic standards."

When that criminal behaviour ordered from the Oval Office came out, Nixon
faced impeachment and had to resign. Well, times have changed. But if
President Obama really doesn't yet know the actual conditions of Manning's
detention – if he really believes, as he's said, that "some of this
[nudity, isolation, harassment, sleep-deprivation] has to do with Private
Manning's wellbeing", despite the contrary judgments of the prison
psychologist – then he's being lied to, and he needs to get a grip on his

If he does know, and agrees that it's appropriate or even legal, that
doesn't speak well for his memory of the courses he taught on
constitutional law.

The president refused to comment on PJ Crowley's statement that the
treatment of Manning is "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid". Those
words are true enough as far as they go – which is probably about as far
as a state department spokesperson can allow himself to go in condemning
actions of the defence department. But at least two other words are called
for: abusive and illegal.

Crowley was responding to a question about the "torturing" of an American
citizen, and, creditably, he didn't rebut that description. Prolonged
isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity – that's right out of the manual of
the CIA for "enhanced interrogation". We've seen it applied in Guantánamo
and Abu Ghraib. It's what the CIA calls "no-touch torture", and its
purpose there, as in this case, is very clear: to demoralise someone to
the point of offering a desired confession. That's what they are after, I
suspect, with Manning. They don't care if the confession is true or false,
so long as it implicates WikiLeaks in a way that will help them prosecute
Julian Assange.

That's just my guess, as to their motives. But it does not affect the
illegality of the behaviour. If I'm right, it's likely that such harsh
treatment wasn't ordered at the level of a warrant officer or the brig
commander. The fact that they have continued to inflict such suffering on
the prisoner despite weeks of complaint from his defence counsel, harsh
publicity and condemnation from organisations such as Amnesty
International, suggests to me that it might have come from high levels of
the defence department or the justice department, if not from the White
House itself.

It's no coincidence that it's someone from the state department who has
gone off-message to speak out about this. When a branch of the US
government makes a mockery of our pretensions to honour the rule of law,
specifically our obligation not to use torture, the state department bears
the brunt of that, as it affects our standing in the world.

The fact that Manning's abusive mistreatment is going on at Quantico –
where I spent nine months as a Marine officer in basic school – and that
Marines are lying about it, makes me feel ashamed for the Corps. Just
three years as an infantry officer was more than enough time for me to
know that what is going on there is illegal behaviour that must be stopped
and disciplined.

Daniel Ellsberg is a former US military analyst who in 1971 leaked the
Pentagon Papers, which revealed how the US public had been misled about
the Vietnam war. His latest book is Secrets.

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