Right now, as you leisurely read this issue of CityBeat while sipping a beverage at a coffee shop, sitting in your favorite chair at home or using the toilet, your taxpayer dollars are being used to illegally abuse a U.S. citizen who hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
The citizen in question is Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who was charged last summer with the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Manning is the alleged source who gave confidential military documents and more than 251,000 secret diplomatic messages from U.S. embassies worldwide to WikiLeaks, the controversial whistle-blowing Web site.
It’s important to use “alleged” because not only has Manning not been convicted of any crime but also because military officials told NBC News on Jan. 24 that they weren’t able to find any evidence connecting Manning to Julian Assange, who operates WikiLeaks.
“The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure,” NBC reported.
That’s good news for Assange but doesn’t help Manning much.
The 23-year-old Manning, an Oklahoma native, is being held as a “maximum custody” detainee at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Va.
In an obvious attempt to psychologically intimidate him, the U.S. government is holding Manning in solitary confinement. He spends 23 hours a day in a sparsely furnished cell, allowed to exercise alone outdoors for one hour. His cell has no window, he cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed and is denied all personal possessions. All meals are taken in his cell, which has no chair or table.
Because he’s been deemed a maximum custody detainee despite having no history of violence or disciplinary offenses while in custody, Manning is shackled at the hands and legs during all visits and denied opportunities to work, which would allow him to leave his cell, according to Amnesty International, the anti-torture human rights group.
Further, Manning has been given a “prevention of injury” classification, even though his military psychologist has said it isn’t necessary. Under the order, Manning is subjected to extra restrictions such as checks by guards every five minutes and strict rules curtailing when he may sleep.
These are the conditions that Manning has endured for six months and counting while he awaits a a pre-trial hearing in May to determine whether he should face a court-martial.
Last week Manning was placed on “suicide risk,” which resulted in him being stripped of his clothes apart from underwear and the confiscation of his prescription eyeglasses for most of the day, which left him in “essential blindness,” Amnesty reported.
After protests from Manning’s attorneys, the restrictions were lifted less than two days later. Military supervisors admitted the person who imposed them lacked the authority to do so.
Tick tock, tick tock. They’re trying to get him to crack.
No matter where you stand on the issue of “enhanced interrogation measures” — y’know, what used to be known as torture — on suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists being held in custody, Manning is 100 percent, without a doubt, absolutely a U.S. citizen. That entitles him to the constitutional rights to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, not to mention his right to avoid any cruel or unusual punishments.
Amnesty International sent a letter Jan. 19 to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that expressed concern about the conditions of Manning’s detention, stating they violated various international treaties that the United States has ratified.
The violations include ignoring Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Also, the U.N.’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which are internationally recognized guiding principles, state that “untried prisoners shall always be offered opportunity to work” should they wish to perform such activity. The provision is designed to help prevent the deterioration of a detainee’s body or mind while awaiting trial.
These aren’t just words on a page. They’re the framework for international order and the rule of law, which all civilized nations must follow.
Yes, terrorists don’t, but that’s part of what makes us better than them. Regardless, by no stretch of the imagination can Manning be called a terrorist, lest the term finally loses all meaning.
“Amnesty International recognizes that it may sometimes be necessary to segregate prisoners for disciplinary or security purposes. However, the restrictions imposed in PFC Manning’s case appear to be unnecessarily harsh and punitive, in view of the fact that he has no history of violence or disciplinary infractions and that he is a pre-trial detainee not yet convicted of any offense,” the group wrote.
The conditions constitute psychological torture, the letter continues.
“The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence ... we are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement — which evidence suggests can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of concentration — may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defense and thus his right to a fair trial.”
If convicted, Manning faces up to 52 years in a military prison.
Manning reportedly became disillusioned with U.S. foreign policy based on what he had seen while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. An associate said Manning told him the documents show “almost criminal political back dealings” that explain “how the first world exploits the third, in detail.”
Revelations attributed to Manning’s document dump include the “collateral murder” video, which depicts three questionable July 2007 air strikes in Baghdad by U.S. helicopters in which several unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed and two children wounded; and secret documents stating there were 15,000 previously undisclosed civilian deaths in Iraq.
People who live in Iraq no doubt were aware of these facts. The only people being kept deliberately in the dark is the U.S. public, which foots the bill for these reckless, misguided foreign adventures that serve little purpose except enriching a few big corporations.
That’s what Gates, President Obama and military commanders really are pissed off about — they’re embarrassed about lackluster security and afraid public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will evaporate.
Guess what? It already has, even without Manning’s help.
If Obama wants to remain true to his principles and campaign rhetoric, he should pardon Manning before leaving office.
The kid already has suffered enough.
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