In April, the Army transferred Private Bradley Manning from a Quantico, Virginia, solitary confinement cell to the federal prison at Leavenworth Kansas. At Quantico, according to a Human Rights Watch report, the military had shackled Manning, stripped him naked and isolated him. The government explained they did these apparently cruel deeds because they feared Manning might commit suicide.
So badly did they want Manning alive, it appears, that his guards had orders to ask him every few minutes: “Are you OK?” This, admitted the government, did not help Private Manning get good sleep. Indeed, the conditions to stop Manning from attempting to take his own life seem logically designed to drive a person to suicide.
Manning, the government claims, committed the super-serious felony of leaking documents that make government officials and policy look less than morally perfect or politically smart. In March 2010, Manning got busted on suspicion of having passed restricted material to the website WikiLeaks.
In July, the government charged the young private with transferring classified data onto his personal computer, and then transmitting this national security information to an unauthorized source ? journalists.
In March 2011, the government added 22 other charges, like “aiding the enemy,” although prosecutors stated they would not seek the death penalty for this most serious sin. Was torture the price Manning paid for not getting the death penalty?
During the presidential campaign both John McCain and Barack Obama took tough stands against torture. They didn’t go into details such as whether lengthy solitary confinement, systematic sleep interruption ? “for the prisoner’s own safety” in Manning’s case ? constant shackling and forced nudity constitute torture. Manning has no record of criminal behavior; nor did he pose a threat to prison order.
The great legal scholar, President Barack Obama, dismissed charges of torture. He described the conditions of Manning’s confinement as “appropriate.” He even said that the treatment of Manning “meet our basic standards.”
On 10, March 2010, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley disagreed, calling the Pentagon’s pre-trial punishment of Manning “counterproductive and stupid.”
On March 13, 2011, Crowley resigned, but cautioned that the “exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.”
The President disagreed. At an April San Francisco fundraiser for his 2012 campaign, Obama was questioned about Human Rights Watch labeling the Pentagon’s treatment of Manning as “extremely restrictive and possibly punitive and degrading.” Obama explained: “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law. … We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate. … He [Manning] broke the law.” Hoo Hah!
Was Obama not advised after more than a year of confinement Manning had not been tried and that only a court can determine if he broke the law? Was Obama prejudicing future jurors?
For Washington’s powerful, the real crime is public humiliation. It’s not about the illegal wars of Obama’s predecessors. Remember, they prepped the public by “leaking” lies and distorted “intelligence” data to justify their invasion of Iraq.
Is it criminal to send drones and Kill Teams to whack people “suspected” of terrorism or of having “links to terrorists?” Does Obama know how many non-terrorists died in these routine lethal activities that simulate video games?
The New York Times echoes the government’s skewed vision on Manning and WikiLeaks, and simultaneously uses WikiLeaks for headline stories. (NY Times April 24-29, 2011, editorials and stories [‘Guantanamo Papers’] about how “A trove of more than 700 classified military documents ?offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up” in Guantanamo.)
In the story of torture of prisoners and their suicide attempts reporter William Glaberson states: “What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal.” (See “Newsbusters” critique of the Times.)
Times’ editor Bill Keller mounted his moral high horse to condemn Wikileaks, denying the Times got the Gitmo horror files from them. Maybe another newspaper “leaked” them to the Times?
Journalism requires the media distance itself from government. When the Times saw itself as a government partner, it ran front-page stories that helped justify Bush’s invasion of Iraq. From early 2001 through 2002, The Times ran Judith Miller stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Her source, Ahmad Chalabi proved totally inaccurate.
Back in April 1961, the Times deleted from Tad Szulc’s story the time and place of landing of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion because President Kennedy told the Times’ publisher it would not serve U.S. National Security interests. (David Halberstam, The Powers That Be, p. 448)
If Manning leaked to WikiLeaks ? not proven ? he and WikiLeaks deserve medals for alerting the world to torture, illegal and inhumane detention and U.S. plots to destabilize other governments. Isn’t the press’ duty to inform the public of government misdeeds and criminal behavior?
WikiLeaks and their helpers have unmasked the essence of “national security,” words that should now alert the antennae of citizens: officials are covering up misdeeds ranging from banal bureaucratic screw-ups to making war.
Saul Landau warns readers contemplating positions in the U.S. government not to read this column lest they be disqualified. Full knowledge of the recent royal wedding will not hurt your chances of getting a government job.