Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months -- and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait -- under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.
Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a "Maximum Custody Detainee," the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.
In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article -- entitled "Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?" -- the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, "all human beings experience isolation as torture." By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person’s mind and drives them into insanity. A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law explains that "solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture."
For that reason, many Western nations -- and even some non-Western nations notorious for human rights abuses -- refuse to employ prolonged solitary confinement except in the most extreme cases of prisoner violence. "It’s an awful thing, solitary," John McCain wrote of his experience in isolated confinement in Vietnam. “It crushes your spirit." As Gawande documented: "A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam . . . reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered." Gawande explained that America’s application of this form of torture to its own citizens is what spawned the torture regime which President Obama vowed to end:
This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. . . .
This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. . . . Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement . .
We don't use piano wire and electrodes. But that doesn't mean we don't torture. Read the quote by John McCain again. We, as a nation, are subjecting this young man to torture that crushes the spirit. That's always the saddest thing when one sees interviews with torture victims. The psychological scars that it leaves for a lifetime.
And all of this because the young man actually believes in freedom and democracy. Freedom means that power resides with the people. The rulers only represent the people. But a free democracy can not exist without the people knowing what the rulers are doing. Without that knowledge, any elections or other mechanisms by which the people choose their rulers become charades without meaning. Its the knowledge of what the government is doing that allows a free people to decide to approve those actions, or to make changes to reject them. When the government hides this information behind a veil of secrecy, they are staging a coup that removes the power from the people and places in the hands of the officials who decide what the citizens get to know.
One could say that 98% of the American people voted in favor of parties that support the torture of Bradley Manning, the arrest of Julian Assange, and the censorship and suppression of Wikileaks. But is this truly the opinion of the American people, when the very documents that Wikileaks is allowing the world to see show just how completely the policies of this government differ from what their official version tells the American voters?
The American people consistently tell pollsters that they oppose torture. They consistently say they want our soldiers home from the wars. The American people consistently oppose the commission of war crimes. Yet, the same citizens vote for political parties and candidates who conduct torture, and keep the wars and all their inherent crimes going and going and going.
Which leaves this as the question. Are we seeing that the American people lie to pollsters about their opposition to torture and these wars? Or, are we seeing elections that simply show how completely they are lied to by their politicians and government? Do 2% of the American people oppose torture? Or do some 60% of the American people oppose torture?
We can only know the answer to that question if the American people know the truth about their government. Bradley Manning acted in support of freedom and democracy in the most fundamental way possible. In response, this nation that prides itself as the champion of freedom and democracy is subjecting him to soul crushing torture. Instead, we should be giving Bradley Manning a medal.
BTW, at times in the last few weeks, typing Wikileaks.org into your browser has only revealed the censorship policies of the US government, as all you would get was a Site Not Found error. If that happens again, you can find wikileaks, by using a site like this one that will forward you on to one of wikileaks many and moving locations around the world. Or, as of today, this site has a list of wikileaks mirrors around the world. The links on the left of this site have been updated to point to this services.
When you see that Site Not Found error, you may think Wikileaks has been defeated. But remember, the one thing they really, really don't want you to know is that there is resistence everywhere. Wikileaks is alive and well. But they could use your support and a donation if you can give it.