(updated below – Update II)
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. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.
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.
In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig’s medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.
Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture. 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 . . . .
It’s one thing to impose such punitive, barbaric measures on convicts who have proven to be violent when around other prisoners; at the Supermax in Florence, inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes and who pose a threat to prison order and the safety of others are subjected to worse treatment than what Manning experiences. But it’s another thing entirely to impose such conditions on individuals, like Manning, who have been convicted of nothing and have never demonstrated an iota of physical threat or disorder.
In 2006, a bipartisan National Commission on America’s Prisons was created and it called for the elimination of prolonged solitary confinement. Its Report documented that conditions whereby “prisoners end up locked in their cells 23 hours a day, every day. . . is so severe that people end up completely isolated, living in what can only be described as torturous conditions.” The Report documented numerous psychiatric studies of individuals held in prolonged isolation which demonstrate “a constellation of symptoms that includes overwhelming anxiety, confusion and hallucination, and sudden violent and self-destructive outbursts.” The above-referenced article from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law states: ”Psychological effects can include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis.”
When one exacerbates the harms of prolonged isolation with the other deprivations to which Manning is being subjected, long-term psychiatric and even physical impairment is likely. Gawande documents that “EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement.” Medical tests conducted in 1992 on Yugoslavian prisoners subjected to an average of six months of isolation — roughly the amount to which Manning has now been subjected — “revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.” Gawande’s article is filled with horrifying stories of individuals subjected to isolation similar to or even less enduring than Manning’s who have succumbed to extreme long-term psychological breakdown.
Manning is barred from communicating with any reporters, even indirectly, so nothing he has said can be quoted here. But David House, a 23-year-old MIT researcher who befriended Manning after his detention (and then had his laptops, camera and cellphone seized by Homeland Security when entering the U.S.) is one of the few people to have visited Manning several times at Quantico. He describes palpable changes in Manning’s physical appearance and behavior just over the course of the several months that he’s been visiting him. Like most individuals held in severe isolation, Manning sleeps much of the day, is particularly frustrated by the petty, vindictive denial of a pillow or sheets, and suffers from less and less outdoor time as part of his one-hour daily removal from his cage.
This is why the conditions under which Manning is being detained were once recognized in the U.S. — and are still recognized in many Western nations — as not only cruel and inhumane, but torture. More than a century ago, U.S. courts understood that solitary confinement was a barbaric punishment that severely harmed the mental and physical health of those subjected to it. The Supreme Court’s 1890 decision in In re Medley noted that as a result of solitary confinement as practiced in the early days of the United States, many “prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition . . . and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better . . . [often] did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.” And in its 1940 decision in Chambers v. Florida, the Court characterized prolonged solitary confinement as “torture” and compared it to “[t]he rack, the thumbscrew, [and] the wheel.”
The inhumane treatment of Manning may have international implications as well. There are multiple proceedings now pending in the European Union Human Rights Court, brought by “War on Terror” detainees contesting their extradition to the U.S. on the ground that the conditions under which they likely will be held — particularly prolonged solitary confinement — violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which (along with the Convention Against Torture) bars EU states from extraditing anyone to any nation where there is a real risk of inhumane and degrading treatment. The European Court of Human Rights has in the past found detention conditions violative of those rights (in Bulgaria) where “the [detainee] spent 23 hours a day alone in his cell; had limited interaction with other prisoners; and was only allowed two visits per month.” From the Journal article referenced above:
International treaty bodies and human rights experts, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, have concluded that solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. They have specifically criticized supermax confinement in the United States because of the mental suffering it inflicts.
Subjecting a detainee like Manning to this level of prolonged cruel and inhumane detention can thus jeopardize the ability of the U.S. to secure extradition for other prisoners, as these conditions are viewed in much of the civilized world as barbaric. Moreover, because Manning holds dual American and U.K. citizenship (his mother is British), it is possible for British agencies and human rights organizations to assert his consular rights against these oppressive conditions. At least some preliminary efforts are underway in Britain to explore that mechanism as a means of securing more humane treatment for Manning. Whatever else is true, all of this illustrates what a profound departure from international norms is the treatment to which the U.S. Government is subjecting him.
* * * * *
The plight of Manning has largely been overshadowed by the intense media fixation on WikiLeaks, so it’s worth underscoring what it is that he’s accused of doing and what he said in his own reputed words about these acts. If one believes the authenticity of the highly edited chat logs of Manning’s online conversations with Adrian Lamo that have been released by Wired (that magazine inexcusably continues to conceal large portions of those logs), Manning clearly believed that he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives, and probably was exactly that. If, for instance, he really is the leaker of the Apache helicopter attack video — a video which sparked very rare and much-needed realization about the visceral truth of what American wars actually entail — as well as the war and diplomatic cables revealing substantial government deceit, brutality, illegality and corruption, then he’s quite similar to Daniel Ellsberg. Indeed, Ellsberg himself said the very same thing about Manning in June on Democracy Now in explaining why he considers the Army Private to be a “hero”:
The fact is that what Lamo reports Manning is saying has a very familiar and persuasive ring to me. He reports Manning as having said that what he had read and what he was passing on were horrible — evidence of horrible machinations by the US backdoor dealings throughout the Middle East and, in many cases, as he put it, almost crimes. And let me guess that — he’s not a lawyer, but I’ll guess that what looked to him like crimes are crimes, that he was putting out. We know that he put out, or at least it’s very plausible that he put out, the videos that he claimed to Lamo. And that’s enough to go on to get them interested in pursuing both him and the other.
And so, what it comes down, to me, is — and I say throwing caution to the winds here — is that what I’ve heard so far of Assange and Manning — and I haven’t met either of them — is that they are two new heroes of mine.
To see why that’s so, just recall some of what Manning purportedly said about why he chose to leak, at least as reflected in the edited chat logs published by Wired:
Lamo: what’s your endgame plan, then?. . .
Manning: well, it was forwarded to [WikiLeaks] – and god knows what happens now – hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . . Washington Post sat on the video… David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here. . . . – i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
if i knew then, what i knew now – kind of thing, or maybe im just young, naive, and stupid . . . im hoping for the former – it cant be the latter – because if it is… were fucking screwed (as a society) – and i dont want to believe that we’re screwed.
Manning described the incident which first made him seriously question the U.S. Government: when he was instructed to work on the case of Iraqi “insurgents” who had been detained for distributing so-called “insurgent” literature which, when Manning had it translated, turned out to be nothing more than “a scholarly critique against PM Maliki”:
i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
And Manning explained why he never considered the thought of selling this classified information to a foreign nation for substantial profit or even just secretly transmitting it to foreign powers, as he easily could have done:
Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious- i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?
Lamo: why didn’t you?
Manning: because it’s public data
Lamo: i mean, the cables
Manning: it belongs in the public domain -information should be free – it belongs in the public domain – because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge – if its out in the open… it should be a public good.
That’s a whistleblower in the purest and most noble form: discovering government secrets of criminal and corrupt acts and then publicizing them to the world not for profit, not to give other nations an edge, but to trigger “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” Given how much Manning has been demonized — at the same time that he’s been rendered silent by the ban on his communication with any media — it’s worthwhile to keep all of that in mind.
But ultimately, what one thinks of Manning’s alleged acts is irrelevant to the issue here. The U.S. ought at least to abide by minimal standards of humane treatment in how it detains him. That’s true for every prisoner, at all times. But departures from such standards are particularly egregious where, as here, the detainee has merely been accused, but never convicted, of wrongdoing. These inhumane conditions make a mockery of Barack Obama’s repeated pledge to end detainee abuse and torture, as prolonged isolation — exacerbated by these other deprivations — is at least as damaging, as violative of international legal standards, and almost as reviled around the world, as the waterboard, hypothermia and other Bush-era tactics that caused so much controversy.
What all of this achieves is clear. 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. Anyone remotely affiliated with WikiLeaks, including American citizens (and plenty of other government critics), has their property seized and communications stored at the border without so much as a warrant. Julian Assange — despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime — has now spent more than a week in solitary confinement with severe restrictions under what his lawyer calls “Dickensian conditions.” But Bradley Manning has suffered much worse, and not for a week, but for seven months, with no end in sight. If you became aware of secret information revealing serious wrongdoing, deceit and/or criminality on the part of the U.S. Government, would you — knowing that you could and likely would be imprisoned under these kinds of repressive, torturous conditions for months on end without so much as a trial: just locked away by yourself 23 hours a day without recourse — be willing to expose it? That’s the climate of fear and intimidation which these inhumane detention conditions are intended to create.
* * * * *
Those wishing to contribute to Bradley Manning’s defense fund can do so here. All of those means are reputable, but everyone should carefully read the various options presented in order to decide which one seems best.
UPDATE: I was contacted by Lt. Villiard, who claims there is one factual inaccuracy in what I wrote: specifically, he claims that Manning is not restricted from accessing news or current events during the prescribed time he is permitted to watch television. That is squarely inconsistent with reports from those with first-hand knowledge of Manning’s detention, but it’s a fairly minor dispute in the scheme of things.
UPDATE II: On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann did a segment on the conditions of Manning’s incarceration, with FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley. At least on its website, CBS News also reported on the story. And I was on Democracy Now Thursday morning elaborating on my Manning article yesterday, as well as discussing Savage’s article this morning and the imminent release of Assange from prison (the transcript is here):
The soldier accused of giving files to WikiLeaks will likely face a court-martial — we explain how it works
Photo: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted by military police from the courthouse after the sixth day of his Article 32 hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, December 21, 2011. (Credit: Benjamin Myers / Reuters)
This week, Bradley Manning came one step closer to being tried for allegedly leaking a trove of secret American cables to WikiLeaks when a military officer made the formal recommendation that Manning should face a court-martial on 22 criminal charges.
One of the counts, aiding the enemy, carries the possibility of the death penalty, but prosecutors have already said they will not seek it in Manning’s case.
The recommendation this week was made to Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington, who is what is known as the convening authority in the case. The military justice system has important differences from the civilian system, so I spoke to Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, to explain the basics.
We’ve now had the investigating officer as well as another officer this week recommend a court-martial to the Military District of Washington commander. What’s the next step?
A convening authority, which is a general officer, will decide whether to refer the case to a court-martial. There’s no designated time frame for this, but I think it will be in the next couple of weeks. A court-martial is a military criminal court that will have serious punishment powers. There will be a military judge presiding over it, who is a uniformed lawyer. There’s a prosecutor. There’s defense counsel. Unless Manning waives the jury, there will be a jury of at least five people.
Who makes up the jury?
The jury is selected by the convening authority. It’s not random selection. The general will select the members; it’s supposed to be a blue ribbon group. They are supposed to be the best qualified people with respect to education, experience, judicial temperament and so on. Because Manning is an enlisted man, he has a right to enlisted representation on the court. That means that at least one-third of the jury would have to be enlisted men or women.
In the civilian trial setting, there’s usually a lot of argument over who sits on the jury. How does that work in a court-martial?
The same thing happens. There’s an opportunity for the lawyers on both sides to question the jurors — who are actually called “members” in a court-martial — to determine whether they are capable of acting impartially. Each side has a right to challenge a member not only for cause, but also peremptorily, in other words for no reason.
To convict a defendant in a non-capital case requires only a two-thirds vote of the members. How the vote breaks down depends on how many members there are. The minimum is five, but there’s something called the numbers game that the lawyers on both sides are aware of. That is, that you want to use your right to challenge a member in order to manipulate the size of the court to maximize the chances of either conviction or acquittal, depending on your perspective. The number slightly tweaks the percentage. Two-thirds of five members is four, meaning the government would need 80 percent to convict. Two-thirds of six members is also four, which means the government would need only 66 percent to convict.
What about the judge — how is he or she different than a judge in a civilian case?
Once the case is referred to a court-martial, and a judge is assigned, the convening authority’s power becomes subject to review, and a judge sort of takes charge of the case. Until that happens — until the case is referred to trial — the convening authority really rules the roost.
The big difference as compared to a civilian federal judge is that a military judge doesn’t have life tenure. The judge in an Army court-martial is guaranteed tenure for only three years, which in my opinion is inadequate. Individually the judges may be perfectly independent, but in terms of the structural protections, the U.S. system is highly deficient in this area.
So the concern is that these judges might be worried about their later career and that affects how they hear cases?
Yeah, that’s the theory. Three years is shorter than any comparable criminal court in this country.
Turning to the trial itself, are the rules different than in a civilian court?
No, the rules are essentially the same as a federal district court. The rules of evidence are a virtual carbon copy, the rules of how people conduct themselves, and so on. Courts-martial are also open to the public, except to the extent that classified information is involved. Even then, only the bare minimum needed to protect the information is closed to the public.
If Manning is ultimately found guilty, how does the sentencing work?
If there is a jury, the jury will do sentencing. Remember, he can waive the jury. But he can’t waive only on sentencing; he would have to waive it on guilt-or-innocence and sentencing together. If he waives the jury, the judge will decide both guilt or innocence and determine the sentence. If Manning goes with a jury, the sentence is determined by the jury. And anything in excess of 10 years has to be decided by a three-fourths vote. If it were a capital case — which it’s not — there would have to be 12 members of the jury and they would have to be unanimous.
What about appeals — can he appeal if he is found guilty?
The first level of review after a case is tried and there is a sentence is to the convening authority. He or she can disapprove the conviction, can cut the sentence and so forth. He or she can overturn the result of the trial. After the convening authority acts, it goes automatically to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, which is made up of military officers who sit in northern Virginia. There are lawyers on both sides, and briefs are filed, and there may be oral argument. Then they will issue a decision. From there, assuming the case is affirmed, Manning would have the right to petition for discretionary review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. That’s a civilian court of five judges who sit in Washington, D.C., with proceedings open to the public. If they granted review, there would be an oral argument, and the case would result in a decision. If that court grants review, then the case becomes eligible for review by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can refuse to hear it, but at least Manning would have the right to ask the Supreme Court for review.
The only civilian casualties D.C.’s warmongers ever talk about are the hypothetical ones “caused” by WikiLeaks
By Chase Madar
Photo: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted from a security vehicle to a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, for a military hearing (Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky)
Who in their right mind wants to talk about, think about or read a short essay about… civilian war casualties? What a bummer, this topic, especially since our Afghan Iraq and other ongoing wars were advertised as uplifting acts of philanthropy: wars to spread security, freedom, democracy, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law, etc.
A couple hundred thousand dead civilians have a way of making such noble ideals seem like dollar-store tinsel. And so, throughout our decade-long foreign policy debacle in the Greater Middle East, we in the U.S. have generally agreed that no one shall commit the gaucherie of dwelling on (and “dwelling on” = fleetingly mentioned) civilian casualties. Washington elites may squabble over some things, but as for foreigners killed by our numerous wars, our Beltway crew adheres to a sullen code of omertà.
Club rules do, however, permit one loophole: Washington officials may bemoan the nightmare of civilian casualties — but only if they can be pinned on a 24-year-old Army private first class named Bradley Manning.
Pfc. Manning, you will remember, is the young soldier who is soon to be court-martialed for passing some 750,000 military and diplomatic documents, a large chunk of them classified, to the website WikiLeaks. Among those leaks, there was indeed some serious stuff about how Americans dealt with civilians in invaded countries. For instance, the documents revealed that the U.S. military, then the occupying force in Iraq, did little or nothing to prevent Iraqi authorities from torturing prisoners in a variety of gruesome ways, sometimes to death.
Then there was that gun-sight video — unclassified but buried in classified material — of an American Apache helicopter opening fire on a crowd on a Baghdad street, gunning down a dozen men, including two Reuters employees, and injuring more, including children. There were also those field reports about how jumpy American soldiers repeatedly shot down civilians at roadside checkpoints; about night raids gone wrong both in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a count of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, a tally whose existence the U.S. military had previously denied possessing.
Together, these leaks and many others offered a composite portrait of military and political debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan whose grinding theme has been civilian casualties, a fact not much noted here in the U.S. A tiny number of low-ranking American soldiers have been held to account for rare instances of premeditated murder of civilians, but most of the troops who kill civilians in the midst of the chaos of war are not tried, much less convicted. We don’t talk about these cases a lot either. On the other hand, officials of all types make free with lusty condemnations of Bradley Manning, whose leaks are luridly credited with potential (though not actual) deaths.
Putting Lives in Danger
“[WikiLeaks] might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the release of the Afghan War Logs in July 2010. This was, of course, the same Admiral Mullen who had endorsed a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which would lead to a tremendous “surge” in casualties among civilians and soldiers alike. Here are counts — undoubtedly undercounts, in fact — of real Afghan corpses that, at least in part, resulted from the policy he supported: 2,412 in 2009, 2,777 in 2010, 1,462 in the first half 2011, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan. As far as anyone knows, here are the corpses that resulted from the release of those WikiLeaks documents: 0. (And don’t forget, the stalemate war with the Taliban has not budged in the period since that surge.) Who, then, has blood on his hands, Pfc. Manning — or Admiral Mullen?
Of course the admiral is hardly alone. In fact, whole tabernacle choirs have joined in the condemnation of Manning and WikiLeaks for “causing” carnage, thanks to their disclosures.
Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, also spoke sternly of Manning’s leaks, accusing him of “moral culpability.” He added, “And that’s where I think the verdict is ‘guilty’ on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences.”
This was, of course, the same Robert Gates who pushed for escalation in Afghanistan in 2009 and, in March 2011, flew to the Kingdom of Bahrain to offer his own personal “reassurance of support” to a ruling monarchy already busy shooting and torturing nonviolent civilian protesters. So again, when it comes to blood and indifference to consequences, Bradley Manning — or Robert Gates?
Nor have such attitudes been confined to the military. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Manning’s (alleged) leak of 250,000 diplomatic cables of being “an attack on the international community” that “puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”
As a senator, of course, she supported the invasion of Iraq in flagrant contravention of the U.N. Charter. She was subsequently a leading hawk when it came to escalating and expanding the Afghan War, and is now responsible for disbursing an annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt’s ruling junta whose forces have repeatedly opened fire on nonviolent civilian protesters. So who’s been attacking the international community and putting lives in danger, Bradley Manning — or Hillary Clinton?
Harold Koh, former Yale Law School dean, liberal lion and currently the State Department’s top legal adviser, has announced that the same leaked diplomatic cables “could place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals — from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security.”
This is the same Harold Koh who, in March 2010, provided a tortured legal rationale for the Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemenand Somalia, despite the inevitable and well-documented civilian casualties they cause. So who is risking the lives of countless innocent individuals, Bradley Manning — or Harold Koh?
Much of the media have clambered aboard the bandwagon, blaming WikiLeaks and Manning for damage done by wars they once energetically cheered on.
In early 2011, to pick just one example from the ranks of journalism, New Yorker writer George Packer professed his horror that WikiLeaks had released a memo marked “secret/noforn” listing spots throughout the world of vital strategic or economic interest to the United States. Asked by radio host Brian Lehrer whether this disclosure had crossed a new line by making a gratuitous gift to terrorists, Packer replied with an appalled yes.
Now, among the “secrets” contained in this document are the facts that the Strait of Gibraltar is a vital shipping lane and that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in minerals. Have we Americans become so infantilized that factoids of basic geography must be considered state secrets? (Maybe best not to answer that question.) The “threat” of this document’s release has since been roundly debunked by various military intellectuals.
Nevertheless, Packer’s response was instructive. Here was a typical liberal hawk, who had can-canned to the post-9/11 drumbeat of war as a therapeutic wake-up call from “the bland comforts of peace,” now affronted by WikiLeaks’ supposed recklessness. Civilian casualties do not seem to have been on Packer’s mind when he supported the invasion of Iraq, nor has he written much about them since.
In an enthusiastic 2006 New Yorker essay on counterinsurgency warfare, for example, the very words “civilian casualties” never come up, despite their centrality to COIN theory, practice and history. It is a fact that, as Operation Enduring Freedom shifted to counterinsurgency tactics in 2009, civilian casualties in Afghanistan skyrocketed. So, for that matter, have American military casualties. (More than half of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan occurred in the past three years.)
Liberal hawks like Packer may consider WikiLeaks out of bounds, but really, who in these last years has been the most reckless, Bradley Manning — or George Packer and some of his pro-war colleagues at the New Yorker like Jeffrey Goldberg (who has since left for the Atlantic Monthly, where he’s been busily clearing a path for war with Iran) and editor David Remnick?
Centrist and liberal nonprofit think tanks have been no less selectively blind when it comes to civilian carnage. Liza Goitein, a lawyer at the liberal-minded Brennan Center at NYU Law School, has also taken out after Bradley Manning. In the midst of an otherwise deft diagnosis of Washington’s compulsive urge to over-classify everything — the federal government classifies an amazing 77 million documents a year — she pauses just long enough to accuse Manning of “criminal recklessness” for putting civilians named in the Afghan War logs in peril — “a disclosure,” as she puts it, “that surely endangers their safety.”
It’s worth noting that, until the moment Goitein made this charge, not a single report or press release issued by the Brennan Center has ever so much as uttered a mention of civilian casualties caused by the U.S. military. The absence of civilian casualties is almost palpable in the work of the Brennan Center’s program in “Liberty and National Security.” For example, this program’s 2011 report “Rethinking Radicalization,” which explored effective, lawful ways to prevent American Muslims from turning terrorist, makes not a single reference to the tens of thousands of well-documented civilian casualties caused by American military force in the Muslim world, which according to many scholars is the prime mover of terrorist blowback. The report on how to combat the threat of Muslim terrorists, written by Pakistan-born Faiza Patel, does not, in fact, even contain the words “Iraq,” “Afghanistan,” “drone strike,” “Pakistan” or “civilian casualties.”
This is almost incredible, because terrorists themselves have freely confessed that what motivated their acts of wanton violence has been the damage done by foreign military occupation back home or simply in the Muslim world. Asked by a federal judge why he tried to blow up Times Square with a car bomb in May 2010, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad answered that he was motivated by the civilian carnage the U.S. had caused in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. How could any report about “rethinking radicalization” fail to mention this? Although the Brennan Center does much valuable work, Goitein’s selective finger-pointing on civilian casualties is emblematic of a blindness to war’s consequences widespread among American institutions.
American Military Whistleblowers
Knowledge may indeed have its risks, but how many civilian deaths can actually be traced to the WikiLeaks revelations? How many military deaths? To the best of anyone’s knowledge, not a single one. After much huffing and puffing, the Pentagon has quietly denied — and then denied again — that there is any evidence at all of the Taliban targeting the Afghan civilians named in the leaked war logs.
In the end, the “grave risks” involved in the publication of the War Logs and of those State Department documents have been wildly exaggerated. Embarrassment, yes. A look inside two grim wars and the workings of imperial diplomacy, yes. Blood, no.
On the other hand, the grave risks that were hidden in those leaked documents, as well as in all the other government distortions, cover-ups and lies of the past decade, have been graphically illustrated in aortal red. The civilian carnage caused by our rush to war in Iraq and by our deeply entrenched stalemate of a war in Afghanistan (and the Pakistani tribal borderlands) is not speculative or theoretical but all-too real.
And yet no one anywhere has been held to much account: not in the political class, not in the military, not in the think tanks, not among the scholars, nor the media. Only one individual, it seems, will pay, even if he actually spilled none of the blood. Our foreign policy elites seem to think Bradley Manning is well-cast for the role of fall guy and scapegoat. This is an injustice.
Someday, it will be clearer to Americans that Pfc. Manning has joined the ranks of great American military whistleblowers like Dan Ellsberg (who was first in his class at Marine officer training school); Vietnam War infantryman Ron Ridenhour, who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre; and the sailors and marines who, in 1777, reported the torture of British captives by their politically connected commanding officer. These servicemen, too, were vilified in their times. Today, we honor them, as someday Pfc. Manning will be honored.
Military public affairs officials in WikiLeaks case use software that specializes in tracking Twitter
Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports on the extent to which the Army’s public affairs office is interested in public and media opinion of the Bradley Manning case, noting that P.R. staffers prepared daily summaries of the coverage of the ongoing legal proceedings. This bit jumped out at me:
The Army used a commercial service called VOCUS to track traditional and social media coverage of Manning’s hearing. The Pentagon pays close attention to the volume of tweets about the U.S. military during high-profile incidents, like the Air Force One flyover that distressed New York City residents in 2009 …
Here (.pdf), via Gerstein, is the Public Affairs Office media coverage summary that refers to “1,045 social media conversations about the hearing.” It also notes that “the VOCUS media site listed most of the coverage of Manning as negative, the majority of the coverage about the hearing remains balanced and factual.”
VOCUS, which is based in a Maryland suburb of Washington, offers its customers the ability to “monitor social conversations, mentions and trends,” and:
- Identify influencers. Rank top tweeters and bloggers by the number of followers, retweets, blog comments, and activity volume, so you can see who you need to be talking to.
- Cover more blog posts. Vocus monitors more than 20 million of the most influential blogs. Best of all, we filter out aggregator sites, so you don’t get false or duplicated results.
- Track sentiment and tone. Mentions are analyzed to gauge the feelings of bloggers, tweeters and readers – giving you insight far beyond the lead story.
- Monitor Twitter in near-real time. Find out what people are saying and analyze all the chatter so you can engage within minutes. Vocus makes it easy to track retweets and identify the originating tweet.
UPDATE 1/11/12: The Army send along this statement in response to my inquiry, which does not shed much light on how it uses VOCUS:
The Army employs traditional and contemporary public relations methods with which to communicate with its varied publics. Our news-gathering and assessment tools are in keeping with modern practices, and are used to determine the level at which we engage with the public to inform our vast constituencies. The Politico report reflects the Army’s connection with the public, and our transparency in such matters.
Pre-trial hearing for the WikiLeaks suspect reveals the government’s prosecution strategy
The pre-trial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, concluded with the government revealing in its closing argument for the first time the enemy, which they believe Manning’s actions aided: the terrorists.
Calling what Manning did a “six month-long enterprise of indiscriminately harvesting information,” Capt. Ashden Fein stated in the prosecution’s closing argument that Manning had actual knowledge that what he gave to WikiLeaks would end up in the hands of the enemy and that enemy was Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and similar enemies.
An Al Qaeda propaganda video was shown. The video, with subtitles, featured a figurehead of the organization discussing the released information, like the State Department cables. The figurehead said the cables revealed “foreign dependencies.” He said something about relying on Allah for actions against the United States and then said before taking actions jihadists should rely on the “wide range of resources on the Internet” now.
Fein asserted that AQAP is “urging followers to collect and archive WikiLeaks information.” Manning “knowingly gave intelligence through WikiLeaks to the enemy.” He “wantonly caused the release of this information.” It was “not just good for declared enemies” but also accessible to “all other enemies with Internet access.”
Manning, Fein added, released over 700,000 documents that were on SIPRnet “during a time of war and while deployed.” He was “never authorized to make classification decisions to affect the national security of the United States.” He was given “unfettered access” to the information and “multiple enemies received” this information.
Now, it is clear: the effect of Manning’s prosecution has the potential to criminalize national security journalism. Not only would successfully putting Manning in prison for life without parole make an example for other soldiers to deter any others from responding to their moral conscience if they came across files that contained evidence of possible war crimes, but this would make it possible for the government to go after journalists who cover documents from the military or security industrial-complex.
This also cements the fact that WikiLeaks is viewed as a terrorist organization by the US government (or at least one that aids terrorist organizations through the publication of classified information). Anyone who releases information to WikiLeaks can count on being pursued by the government and, when caught, charged with “aiding the enemy”—terrorists, because they have access to the Internet and could read material that was once-secret.
Unsurprisingly, the defense’s closing argument given by David Coombs sharply contrasted with this rather incendiary condemnation of Manning. Coombs presented Manning as a “young and idealistic” man with a “strong moral compass.”
“Obviously, in your early twenties, you believe you can change the world,” Coombs stated. “In your early twenties, you believe you can make a difference and that’s a good thing. In your early twenties, when your president says, ‘Yes We Can,’ you actually believe that.”
He wholly condemned the government’s overreaction to the release of documents by WikiLeaks and their insistence that the documents have done “extreme harm” and so Manning must pay with his life.
“What was the result of these leaks?” Coombs asked. It would be possible to know if the original classification authorities (OCAs) had been in court to testify. They were not. They instead submitted “unsworn statements” indicating “relevant information could cause harm.”
Coombs said the OCAs were reinforcing the “Chicken Little response of the US government” that began with Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell going around saying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” and continues most recently with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
“The sky is not falling and the sky will not fall,” declared Coombs.
Moments before calling out the OCAs, he spoke of the profound suffering Manning had been experiencing as a member of the military who had gender identity disorder. He cited an email to Sgt. Paul Adkins, who escaped testifying during the hearing by invoking his right to not incriminate himself.
All throughout the hearing this email was frequently referenced because it included a photo of Manning dressed up as a woman. For the first time, Coombs read what Manning had written to Adkins.
“This is my problem. I’ve had signs of it for a very long time. I’ve been trying very, very hard to get rid of it.” It is not going away. It is haunting me more and more as I get older. Now the consequences are getting harder. “I am not sure what to do with it. It’s destroying my ties with family. It is preventing me from developing as a person. It’s the cause of my pain and confusion. It makes the most basic things in my life very difficult. He said the only help that seems available is severe punishment. “I have a fear of getting caught” and have gone to “great lengths to conceal my disorder.”
The email continued: “It is difficult to sleep and impossible to have conversations. It makes “my entire life feel like a bad dream that won’t end. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what will happen to me. But at this point I feel like I am not here anymore. Signed, Bradley Manning.”
Coombs appropriately concluded by paraphrasing a quote many attribute to the late Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight has always been the best disinfectant.”
He quoted Martin Luther King Jr., a flourish that surely pleased supporters of Manning:
An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
“[A] hallmark of our democracy is the ability of our government to be open with its public,” Coombs stated. “History will ultimately judge my client.”
This was the first clear instance during the entire hearing that Coombs conceded that Manning had, in fact, released the information to WikiLeaks, but the government should not get away with prosecuting Manning because he was simply doing what he thought to be just. And there is no justification for persecuting someone, who sought to raise the public’s awareness of gross injustices, and move the government to effectively resolve and end an era of corruption and lawlessness under President George W. Bush’s administration.
Are the proceedings against the Wikileaks suspect designed to send a message to would-be leakers?
Will the harsh treatment of Bradley Manning dissuade would-be leakers in the military from releasing information that may be of public interest?
Supporters of Manning as well as outside observers of the case say the extraordinary conditions of his confinement as well as the length of time that Manning has been held without being convicted of anything could weigh heavily on any person mulling a conscience-driven leak.
“Bradley’s treatment has been extreme. There was no reason for it other than to tell other soldiers, ‘If you do something like this, we’re going to ruin you.’” says Jeff Paterson, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, which is helping Manning as he fights charges of leaking a trove of classified materials to WikiLeaks.