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Why is Obama Torturing Private Bradley Manning?

By Ralph Lopez - Posted on 17 April 2011

A Review of the case of Private Bradley Manning one year after his arrest.

It is the right of all Americans, and a bedrock principle of our law, that we are to be presumed innocent unless found guilty of a crime.  So why, before he has even been tried, has Pfc. Bradley Manning been held in a 6 ft. by 12 ft. cell for nearly a year now, for 23 out of 24 hours each day, in mind-breaking isolation?  Pfc. Manning is not allowed to exercise in his cell.  He cannot tell if it is night or day outside.  He is allowed no radio, clock, or personal items.  He takes his meals in his cell alone.

For exercise, for one hour each day, he is allowed to walk, not run, figure eights in another room in shackles.  Psychiatrists have suggested that this treatment assures that Pfc. Manning will be mentally incompetent to assist in his own defense.

What does the Army accuse Bradley Manning of doing?  They call it leaking classified documents.  We, Bradley Manning's supporters, call it reporting war crimes.  Regardless, all this is taking place before Manning has been convicted of a single, solitary thing.

These are not just Pfc. Manning's rights which are being tested.  They are yours.  Speak now, or be prepared for the U.S. government to be able to do this to anyone.  It doesn't matter what the alleged crime is.  We are innocent unless, and until, we are found guilty in a court of law, be it military or civilian.  At no time in our nation's history has this principle been under more serious assault.

The Story of Bradley Manning

Under a bogus "suicide watch" Bradley must be asked by a guard every 5 minutes "are you OK?" to which he must answer yes.  The military's own brig psychiatrists have deemed that Bradley is not a suicide risk, so the brig commander, at Quantico Marine Base where Bradley is being held, is contradicting the advice of his own staff. At night, he is awakened and asked again “Are you OK?” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket.  His face must be visible to guards at all times.  Recently, he has been forced to strip at night, surrender his clothes, and sleep naked, then stand at attention naked for inspection in front of his cell in the morning.

The alleged crimes which merit all this "special treatment" of Bradley Manning, as no other military prisoner has ever been treated before for this long, is the leak of classified documents and videos which were on government hard drives, which the government admits have led to no deaths that they know of, of informants in Afghanistan.  The material was also vetted and published by major media, including the New York Times, the UK Guardian, and MSNBC.  

This is just as the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg many years ago was vetted by the New York Times for damaging information before publication.  Although civilians die almost every day in Afghanistan as a result of the military occupation, the Department of Defense does not worry as much about these other deaths.  In Predator drone attacks, common over Pakistan and Afghanistan, many civilians are often killed for every one alleged insurgent.  But this doesn't stop the Pentagon from using drones.

With even clearly suspicious killings of civilians in Afghanistan being casually dismissed, such as the nine boys collecting firewood "mistaken" for insurgents and picked off one at a time, at short range, from an attack helicopter with gunsight optics which can almost read a tee-shirt from a mile away, the Pentagon's concern for casualties of any kind in Afghanistan rings as hollow as AJ Foyt being concerned about speeding on the Daytona loop.

Another principle at stake in the Bradley Manning case is the extent to which the government can protect its embarrassing secrets.   What Manning saw in the thousands of documents he is accused of forwarding to Wikileaks was a daily grind of unreported civilian casualties, lies, friendly fire incidents,  and other bloody screw-ups which are the true face of war, which he saw soon after being deployed to Iraq.  These were contrary to the Pentagon's continuous upbeat, rosy press conferences.  

Manning wrote to the young man who eventually turned him into the authorities, Adrian Lamo,  that he hoped the documents would trigger "worldwide discussions, debates, and reforms."  Like Julian Assange, Manning seemed guided by a simple principle: that in a democracy, more information is better than less.  This was especially true in the bloodiest enterprise a democracy might decide to undertake, the conduct of war.  Manning wrote to Lamo: "I want people to see the truth . . . regardless of who they are . . . because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public."

Bradley started his long journey to where he is now soon after he was deployed to Iraq in October of 2009, after enlisting in the Army in 2007 at the age of 20.  He was bright and patriotic.  Bradley's friend Jordan Davis told journalist Denver Nicks in an email: “He was basically really into America...He wanted to serve his country.”

Davis told Nicks: "“He was proud of our successes as a country. He valued our freedom, but probably our economic freedom the most. I think he saw the US as a force for good in the world.”"

In 2005, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters: “It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to try to stop it.”  Soon after he arrived in Iraq, this is exactly what Bradley did.  He was assigned to investigate Iraqi journalists and dissidents who were distributing "anti-Iraqi literature," and he found they were being arrested, detained, tortured, and sometimes killed by Iraqi authorities for the Maliki government, for following the money trail and finding out what happened to millions of dollars.  The millions which were disappearing were supposed to be going toward projects which would give Iraqis things like clean water, trash pick-up, and working sewers. In May of 2010 Manning wrote in a chat room to new online friend Lamo:

“If you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

What Manning had uncovered was awful indeed.  In the words of writer Chase Madar, the US military had "a multitude of credible accounts of Iraqi police and soldiers shooting prisoners, beating them to death, pulling out fingernails or teeth, cutting off fingers, burning with acid, torturing with electric shocks or the use of suffocation, and various kinds of sexual abuse including sodomization with gun barrels and forcing prisoners to perform sexual acts on guards and each other."

Bradley reported the findings of his investigation to his command.  He was told to "shut up" and go out and find more dissidents for the Iraqi police to round up, and possibly torture and kill.

The U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, Chapter 5 Article 338 states on the subject of "internees," meaning prisoners, during an occupation:

"Every death or serious injury of an internee, caused or suspected to have been caused by a sentry, another internee or any other person, as well as any death the cause of which is unknown, shall be immediately followed by an official inquiry by the Detaining Power.  A communication on this subject shall be sent immediately to the Protecting Power. The evidence of any witnesses shall be taken, and a report including such evidence shall be prepared and forwarded to the said Protecting Power.  If the enquiry indicates the guilt of one or more persons, the Detaining Power shall take all necessary steps to ensure the prosecution of the person or persons responsible."

In Iraq the "Detaining Power" in this case would be the Iraqi government, while the "Protecting Power" would be the United States.  In reporting what he had found, Bradley was following the Army Field Manual to the letter.

Another likely war crime shown in a video allegedly leaked by Bradley shows an Apache attack helicopter over Baghdad in 2007, firing upon wounded after an attack on purported insurgents.  This is clearly a war crime. Article 12 of the Geneva Conventions states that:

   "wounded or sick, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances. They shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict ... Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited; in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated ..."

Other documents in the trove of memos alleged to be leaked by Bradley, which have become known as the "Afghan War Logs," reveal deceptions by the U.S. military such as attributing the crash of helicopters, and the resultant deaths of servicemen, to "mechanical failure" rather than to what they knew to be true, that they were shot down by surface-to-air missiles in the hands of the Taliban.  This hid from the American public the Taliban's known possession of these weapons.

In short, although the Department of Defense alleges that Pfc. Manning leaked documents, the publication of which endangered national security, it is far more likely that generals were enraged at being caught in lies, which can endanger careers, and public opinion about a war the administration is intent on having.  This is what is really behind the torture and mind destruction of Bradley Manning.

The disillusionment of Bradley by the lack of principles shown by his elders in the military is evident in his emails to Lamo. “I don’t believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore,” he said. “Only a plethora of states acting in self interest.”

Prolonged Isolation is Torture

There is no debate any longer over whether or not prolonged isolation constitutes torture.  Nearly 300 top legal scholars, including Obama's former Constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe, have published an open letter in the New York Times Review of Books calling Bradley's treatment "cruel."  In addition to not being allowed to nap or sleep during this 23 hours a day in his 6 ft. by 12 ft. cell, with no windows giving natural light, he is being given what the military says are "anti-depressants" to, in the words of journalist Glen Greenwald, "prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation."

In the case of another prisoner who was held in isolation for two years before his trial, Fahad Hashmi, medical testimony indicated that after 60 days people’s mental state begins to break down.  The mind disintegrates.  Fahad was charged with terrorism when he unwittingly passed on a pair of waterproof socks and some ponchos in London to an alleged Al Qaeda member, and subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Prolonged isolation produces fear, anxiety and stress as lack of human contact denies the victim the opportunity to affirm the validity of what they are thinking. Victims hear voices and begin to question who they are. Stuart Grassian MD, wrote in "Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement":


"over 400 published investigations of the effects of social isolation on primates show such deleterious effects as self-mutilation and disturbances in perception and learning. They found that in adult rhesus monkeys even brief periods of social isolation produce compromised cognitive processing."

Grassian notes:

"McKinney, Suomi and Harlow (1971) produced symptoms of depression in rhesus monkeys by confining them for 30 days.... isolation-produced fear in dogs has been clearly demonstrated (Thompson & Melzack, 1956)."

There is one problem with the charges against Bradley.  In America, whistleblowing is still not a crime, and causing political embarrassment is still not tantamount to treason.  The US government presently classifies around 6 million documents, produced and paid for with your own tax dollars.  That the government classifies each of these documents based only on national security considerations is an absurd proposition.  The problem with the charges against Bradley is that leaking classified documents is not a crime, and happens all the time, almost always by inside players in the government jockeying for political advantage.  This is what took place in the case of the Vice President's office leaking the identity of Valerie Plame.

The difference is, that leak did real, tangible, and lasting national security damage, as Special Forces Colonel Pat Lang testified before Congress that as a result of Plame's exposure and the compromised trust between agents and their informants, the "possibility of penetrating these [Jihadi] groups, the possibility of knowing that they're going to carry 10-pound bags of explosive in the subway stations, will go right down the drain."

Daniel Ellsberg notes that the United States still has no official "state secrets" act, such as UK and other countries, which makes it a crime to disclose any and all information deemed "classified" by the government, which would open not only the leaker but any news organ which revealed, for example, lax controls at a nuclear power plant, to prosecution.  Ellsberg says:

"We have some very narrowly defined official secrets act that proscribe giving out, for example, nuclear weapons data or communications intelligence or the identities of intelligence agents, covert agents, like Valerie Plame--that was wrongly and unlawfully leaked..."

The Obama administration's ill-treatment of Bradley Manning, which recently prompted the intemperate remarks and resignation of White House spokesman PJ Crowley, are part of a tug-of-war which has been taking place between legitimate needs for secrecy and the public's right to know for ages, since Richard Nixon tried, and almost succeeded, in having Daniel Ellsberg locked up for life.  President Obama's crime of the destruction of Bradley Manning continues, and his restrictions on visitors are increasing, although many supporters are applying for permission.  Large protests have been held outside the gates of Quantico Marine Base.  Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell has stated that Pfc. Manning has been nothing short of “exemplary” as a detainee.  After a visit this year by Bradley's friend David House, Mr. House reported in an interview with MSNBC that Bradley was now appearing "catatonic"  and that he had "severe problems communicating."   He said Bradley's demeanor was as "if he had just woken up and didn't know what was going on around him."   He was "utterly exhausted physically and was difficult to have any kind of social engagement."

Over 300 law school professors , including Obama's former law professor Lawrence Tribe, groups such as Psychiatrists for Social Responsibility and Amnesty International have strongly protested his treatment in letters to President Obama.   The bottom line is that Bradley has not yet been tried for any crime and so he must still be presumed innocent.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice clearly states:


"Pretrial restraint is not punishment and shall not be used as such." (UCMJ R.C.M. 305f)

"What all of this achieves is clear," writes journalist Glen Greenwald,  "having it known that the U.S. could and would disappear people at will to "black sites," assassinate them with unseen drones, imprison them for years without a shred of due process even while knowing they were innocent, torture them mercilessly, and in general acts as a lawless and rogue imperial power created a climate of severe intimidation and fear. Who would want to challenge the U.S. Government in any way -- even in legitimate ways -- knowing that it could and would engage in such lawless, violent conduct without any restraints or repercussions?  That is plainly what is going on here."

Please join the campaign to free Bradley Manning.  Protect his rights.  And yours.

Baghdad 2007 video allegedly leaked by Bradley Manning



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