There’s More Than One Way to Betray Your Country

Charlie Savage in yesterday’s New York Times:

Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking government files to WikiLeaks, will be stripped of his clothing every night as a “precautionary measure” to prevent him from injuring himself, an official at the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., said on Friday.

Private Manning will also be required to stand outside his cell naked during a morning inspection, after which his clothing will be returned to him, said a Marine spokesman, First Lt. Brian Villiard.

“Because of recent circumstances, the underwear was taken away from him as a precaution to ensure that he did not injure himself,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “The brig commander has a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the detainees and to make sure that they are able to stand trial.”

Private Manning is a maximum-security detainee under “prevention of injury watch,” a special set of restrictions — a step his supporters, who contend that he is not suicidal, have said is unjustified. He has not been elevated to the more restrictive “suicide watch” conditions.

Lieutenant Villiard said the new rule on clothing, which would continue indefinitely, had been imposed by the brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes. He said that he was not allowed to explain what prompted it “because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.”

It’s hard to decide which is the greater wickedness — the cruelty and humiliation itself, or the brazen, cynical, Soviet-style reversal of its purpose. Glenn Greenwald is appropriately sarcastic:

Has anyone before successfully committed suicide using a pair of briefs — especially when under constant video and in-person monitoring?  There’s no underwear that can be issued that is useless for killing oneself?  And if this is truly such a threat, why isn’t he on “suicide watch” (the NYT article confirms he’s not)?  And why is this restriction confined to the night; can’t he also off himself using his briefs during the day?

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? …

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.

[...]
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?

And I’ll say this again:  just fathom the contrived, shrieking uproar from opportunistic Democratic politicians and their loyalists if it had been George Bush and Dick Cheney — on U.S. soil — subjecting a whistle-blowing member of the U.S. military to these repressive conditions without being convicted of anything, charging him with a capital offense that statutorily carries the death penalty, and then forcing him to remain nude every night and stand naked for inspection outside his cell.  Feigning concern over detainee abuse for partisan gain is only slightly less repellent than the treatment to which Manning is being subjected.

Final words: Nobody that I know of denies that Pfc. Bradley Manning broke the law when he downloaded those classified documents onto his hard drive — just as Daniel Ellsberg broke the law when he photocopied thousands of pages of top secret Pentagon documents and turned them over to the Washington Post. Whether you believe that Manning and Ellsberg both acted according to the dictates of their conscience, or whether you think what they did was wrong, nobody denies that those actions were illegal. It’s not necessary to sympathize or agree with Manning’s actions OR his motives to condemn his cruel and degrading treatment. As a matter of both domestic and international law, cruel and degrading treatment — which forced nudity certainly is — is just as illegal as torture, and just as illegal as the illegal acts Manning is charged with — not to mention that it violates the moral and ethical values Americans have claimed to believe in for over two centuries.

With this in mind, I would like to address those who condone or shrug off what is being done to Manning on the grounds that they “have no sympathy” for Manning because he is a “traitor” who “sold out” or “betrayed” his country. If in pursuing legal action against Manning we are willing to jettison our own deepest and most fundamental values and ignore — in spirit if not in letter — our own laws and the international protocols that we agreed to respect, then what exactly did Manning betray when he “betrayed” his country?

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG