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WHAT’S WITH THE TORTURE OF BRADLEY MANNING? March 7, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Human Rights, US Politics.
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We can, it seems, forget about justice and proper process, if we are a powerful institution such as the US Military.

By doing so, injustice and lawlessness is being institutionalized. That approach is illustrated by the treatment of Bradley Manning.

The principal question is why would anybody do that? Why would a president do that? Don’t they know that these behaviors come back to haunt the people responsible, and they will not be forgotten, nor have they not been witnessed? So what is going on here? One possible answer is arrogance and a sense of impunity. Another is political and social calculation, and at point we enter into the practice of scapegoating with its ancient and modern associations.

Glenn Greenwald has followed developments and reactions:

Let’s review Manning’s detention over the last nine straight months: 23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view. Is there anyone who doubts that these measures — and especially this prolonged forced nudity — are punitive and designed to further erode his mental health, physical health and will? As The Guardian reported last year, forced nudity is almost certainly a breach of the Geneva Conventions; the Conventions do not technically apply to Manning, as he is not a prisoner of war, but they certainly establish the minimal protections to which all detainees — let alone citizens convicted of nothing — are entitled.

The treatment of Manning is now so repulsive that it even lies beyond what at least some of the most devoted Obama admirers are willing to defend. For instance, UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman — who last year hailed Barack Obama as, and I quote, “the greatest moral leader of our lifetime” — wrote last night:

The United States Army is so concerned about Bradley Manning’s health that it is subjecting him to a regime designed to drive him insane. . . . This is a total disgrace. It shouldn’t be happening in this country. You can’t be unaware of this, Mr. President. Silence gives consent.

The entire Manning controversy has received substantial media attention. It’s being carried out by the military of which Barack Obama is the Commander-in-Chief. Yes, the Greatest Moral Leader of Our Lifetime and Nobel Peace Prize winner is well aware of what’s being done and obviously has been for quite some time. It is his administration which is obsessed with destroying and deterring any remnants of whistle-blowing and breaches of the secrecy regime behind which the National Security and Surveillance States function. This is all perfectly consistent with his actions in office, as painful as that might be for some to accept (The American Prospect, which has fairly consistently criticized Obama’s civil liberties abuses, yesterday called the treatment of Manning “torture” and denounced it as a “disgrace”). As former Army officer James Joyner (and emphatic critic of WikiLeaks and Manning) writes:

Obama promised to close Gitmo because he was embarrassed that we were doing this kind of thing to accused terrorists. But he’s allowing it to happen to an American soldier under his command?

Chris Floyd sees in this behavior the looming dark cloud:

Fascism has come to America.

And no, it didn’t come in jackboots. It didn’t come in massed, marching ranks. It didn’t come in greasy-haired frothers ranting on a stage.

It came with cool. It came with savvy. It came wearing the mask of past evils redeemed by the image of a persecuted minority elevated to power. It came spouting scripture, hugging bright children, quoting pop music, sporting pricey leisure threads.

It came on Facebook, it came with 269 cable channels blazing, with I-Pad apps offering Catholic confession and YouTube porn. It came with the Super Bowl, with de la Renta gowns on the Oscar carpet, with 36 brands of dips and chips on the bulging shelves of your local Wal-Mart.

It came right in the midst of your ordinary life, as you went to work — or looked for work — as you partied, as you courted, as you watched TV, as you worshipped, as you studied, as you played, as you went about the business of being human.

As you went about the business of being human, this inhuman thing has come. It has come in your name, wrapped in your flag, claiming your security as its raison d’etre.

And in the guise of a young, hip, educated progressive, it has just now declared that anyone who reveals any hidden evil committed by the fascist state is subject to prosecution for a capital crime. That’s right. It has revealed that you — you American citizen, you patriot, you believer in goodness and justice and genuine democracy — you can be killed by the government if you tell the truth.

This is what the administration of President Barack Obama has demonstrated — indeed, has proudly proclaimed — in its treatment of the young man it is avowedly, openly torturing for telling the truth about American war crimes, Bradley Manning. There can be no mistaking the meaning, implications and import of Barack Obama’s actions.

Arthur Siber, quoted by Chris Floyd, describes the sheer cruelty involved:

A human being can be destroyed in a seemingly infinite number of ways, as history repeatedly demonstrates. Our capacity for cruelty is limitless. It would appear to defy gratification. We are all too familiar with the horrifying varieties of physical violence inflicted on the human body, but there is another method of seeking to destroy those whom we have designated as enemies to our own survival. In one critical respect, this method is worse than injuries that might be visited on our fragile corporeal form, for while the body may survive intact, the person — that is, his mind and soul — will never be made whole again.

This method of destruction throws the victim into a nightmare world, one which mocks every effort to comprehend it. Cruelty is presented as compassion and solicitude for the victim’s well-being; the words of justification seek to convince those who suffer that their unbearable pain should be accepted for their own good. The victim knows that every utterance of his tormentors is a lie, and the more he attempts to understand why they act so monstrously, the greater his suffering grows. …This is evil; those who seek to impose this fate on a human being are engaged in evil of an especially monstrous kind.

Read this New York Times story about the latest cruelties inflicted on Bradley Manning, and you will see the operation of these mechanisms. We must remember that Manning is, as the Times story states in its first sentence, the “accused.” As of this date, Manning has been tried for nothing. As of this date, Manning has been convicted of nothing.

Legal niceties count for nothing. So what is going on. Emeritus Professor Michael Nagler has an explanation:

Scapegoating has been around for a long time. It was invented by nearly all cultures, who went to great lengths to convince themselves that it was legitimate, and effective. It may seem absurd to us that the sins of a community could be loaded onto a goat and driven out into the wilderness, but the Israelites needed to believe it, and so they did. No doubt the idea that a close subordinate can be designated to “take the heat,” be “thrown under the bus” whenever a president is caught doing certain types of misdeed (the particular types that matter can vary erratically — this is how Bill Clinton was hung for doing something that had been passed over in silence since the beginning of the Republic) will be just as absurd to future, hopefully more enlightened generations.

René Girard has devoted his career to exposing the dynamic of scapegoating: its dire presence in many cultural forms from antiquity onwards (or much earlier, if you look at some primate behaviors), the characteristic signs of the designated scapegoat (they turn out to be remarkably uniform across many cultures — incest or other sexual irregularities show up everywhere), and how as civilization progresses institutions like law and monotheistic belief systems were created as, among other things, attempts to replace the scapegoat response. He notes that in Jewish law, for example, if a person is accused by everyone in the community he must be set free. This counterintuitive prescription was introduced because “unanimous violence” is a telltale sign that what’s going on is scapegoating, and it is better to let a few guilty ones go free than give rein to a system that destroys so many innocents — to so little good.

For scapegoating at best can defuse or deflect violence without resolving it. In itself it can at best bring some conflicts to a stalemate, while dangerously inflaming others. It can never bring peace. It is time to move on. If Girard’s historical reconstruction and interpretation of Judeo-Christian experiences is correct, it has been time for two thousand years. The reason modern examples of scapegoating have been so violently destructive on such a huge scale (think of the holocaust) is precisely that they belong to a bygone era and should have been outgrown long since. (The very term ‘holocaust’ comes from the ancient Greek word for the kind of sacrifice where the victim is completely consumed by fire — if you believe it, dedicated to the gods — instead of being shared out to the community as food).

One of Girard’s more brilliant discoveries was that to maintain the fiction of its efficacy the scapegoating system must conceal the inconvenient fact that the victim had nothing to do with the problem. Scapegoat literature never allows the victim to speak, unless it puts convenient confessions of guilt into their mouth, as in the case of Sophocles’ Oedipus, who not only admits that he is guilty of incest but punishes and expels himself so that the community is spared the trouble — and the pollution that can accrue to sacrificers, You could not ask for a ‘better’ victim. Job, on the other hand, introduces new moral era. When he refuses, in the text we now have, to admit that he is guilty because he in fact isn’t, he breaks the cycle, and God (the real one, capital ‘G’) responds entirely differently than the pagan consumer-gods who ‘accept’ the sacrifice. We need hardly speak here of the words of Jesus: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This is now the critical point: do we? Do we know what we are doing when we let military ‘justice’ subject Pfc. Bradley Manning to the inhumane punishment of solitary confinement — the equivalent of expulsion from the land of the living — now for going on nine months on the grounds of ‘Prevention of Injury’ for which there is no psychiatric justification. Manning’s attorney David E. Coombs, writing in the Washington Post, on January 21st, said, “The fact that they won’t articulate any basis for it leaves you with no other conclusion than it must be punitive” . . . or that no articulate basis is needed when your thinking is not really legal but mythic.

Manning has been punished for allegedly releasing this video among others:

And the war crimes continue. The United States may have impunity, but individual human beings and human consciences do not. So they have devise schemes that can turn around or transform what the behavior creates in its perpetrators. The moral force within human beings is stronger than it is sometimes given credit for. The Afghanistan War is an example of how institutions and people can become trapped in the nightmare of their own making, which is far worse than any of the torture and degradation they seek to visit on Bradley Manning. What must it be to be Barack Obama to have that weighing on your mind, not just now but while you remain alive?

ELSEWHERE:

Ed Pilkington for The Guardian reports that:

Quantico is refusing to explain why it is forcing Manning to strip naked at night, citing privacy rules. But a spokesman has denied any desire to humiliate or embarrass the prisoner.

Manning has been held in solitary confinement for the past 10 months, having been arrested outside Baghdad where he was working as a military intelligence officer. He is charged with multiple counts of having downloaded classified documents and handing them to “the enemy”.

On AntiWar.com, Scott Horton interviews Jennifer Van Bergen. Charges are made with a view to plea bargaining, with a conviction recorded. As in the case of David Hicks, duress is part of the process toward the end. So what happens to Bradley Manning after this treatment?

David House, Manning’s friend, suggests the the Government is attempting to psychologically break down their suspect before the trial. Prisoners, even unconvicted ones do not have rights in the American legal system, which smacks of tyranny, specifically “over the mind of man”. I doubt such behavior qualifies as hypocrisy.

Jennifer Van Bergen, at Counter Point, suggests that errors have been made with respect to the Manning charges and that the publishers of the information that he allegedly provided may be chargeable.

UPDATE:

At Raw Story, Muriel Kelly notes:

Blogger Glenn Greenwald and others have been suggesting for some months that Federal investigators are attempting to force Manning to implicate Assange because they have no other basis for a criminal prosecution of WikiLeaks.

In December, the New York Times suggested that “Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.”

“[The Times] story appears to shed substantial light on my story from yesterday about the repressive conditions under which Manning is being detained,” Greenwald commented. “The need to have Manning make incriminating statements against Assange — to get him to claim that Assange actively, in advance, helped Manning access and leak these documents — would be one obvious reason for subjecting Manning to such inhumane conditions: if you want to have better treatment, you must incriminate Assange.”

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