Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

The Latest, Terrible Reasons Being Given For Humiliating Bradley Manning

The shameful tale of Pfc. Bradley Manning recently took a new and horrible turn. Owing to the caprices of Quantico Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, Manning is now being made to sleep naked and, in the morning, to stand naked for morning roll call. This, according to Marine Corps spokesperson Brian Villiard, is for Manning's own protection.

Why are the Marine Corps authorities at Quantico prison, not content with keeping Manning in conditions of near-solitary confinement and POI ("prevention of injury"), now suddenly demanding the naked thing, as well? You are not going to believe why.

According to the blog of Manning's defense attorney, David E. Coombs, Manning had the temerity to ask the brig officer exactly what it is that he needs to do in order to have the restrictions on his imprisonment loosened a bit. Keep in mind that brig forensic psychiatrists have repeatedly stated that there is no mental health justification for keeping Manning confined on POI watch. Even so, Manning was informed that there was nothing he could do to have the restrictions removed, because brig officials considered him at risk of self-harm.

Manning then made the apparent mistake of flippantly remarking that, if he really wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.

That apparently is the point at which Barnes bethought herself to further humiliate Manning by making him sleep naked, on the pretext that she is concerned that he is a suicide risk. But was Manning placed under a Suicide Risk Watch? No. And why not?

Because Suicide Risk Watch requires a brig mental health provider's recommendation, is why not, and the brig mental health providers have already said repeatedly that Manning is not a threat to himself. And so Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes has resorted to such tools as are at her disposal in order to further degrade Manning, who is charged with being a military whistleblower.

Last week, Daniel Ellsberg said of Bradley Manning: "Our enemy is generally al-Qaeda, and they want these wars to continue. The people who give comfort to the enemy are the people who sent troops there and are keeping the cost of the war from the people. Bradley Manning is acting in the interest of the United States and against the interest of our enemy al Qaeda. … There's a campaign here against whistleblowing that's actually unprecedented in legal terms."

What is the point of torturing this young man? It is to make an example of him? Or is it, as many suspect, an attempt to break him, and thereby gain his cooperation in bringing charges against Julian Assange?

At the President's website, Change.gov, there is a page that lays out the Ethics Agenda of the incoming Obama Administration. It includes a lot of great-sounding things: exposing special interest tax breaks to public scrutiny, ending the abuse of no-bid contracts, requirements for independent monitoring of lobbying laws and ethics rules, and the timely release of presidential records. It also includes the following paragraph:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process."

Bradley Manning is (1) a federal employee, and (if the allegations against him are correct) (2) a watchdog of wrongdoing who (3) exposed the abuse of authority in government. So how are those who supported the Obama/Biden ticket after reading these lofty promises supposed to feel now?

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like A Gentleman, Think Like A Woman.

42 Comments / Post A Comment

petejayhawk (#1,249)

This is easy for me to say, sitting here on my couch in my warm home while Manning is locked up and tortured, but shit like this – much moreso even than the raping and pillaging of the country by a wealthy elite – makes me so POWERLESS. I am furious and I can't do a goddamn thing about it.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Exactly this. It's not like we can write to the military and threaten not to vote for them if they don't treat him decently.

Matt Cornell (#8,797)

You could write to the President and threaten not to vote for him. He is the commander in chief, after all. If he wanted to stop the torture and prosecution of Manning, he could do it, with a phone call. So much for hope and change.

I wrote a long post and deleted it. Basically I think there might be a chance that writing letters could actually help in this situation. 100 letters sent to the right person (someone with the ear of POTUS or SECDEF) can make a difference. Which is actually not empowering but sad and wrong but, you know, grab the wheel that works and all.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council? I just don't see a higher-up at the Pentagon of the NSA going to the President with this message, so it might have to come from someone who's purview doesn't include those two agencies. Also, this is a political issue, not a military one.
Finally (sorry), I don't get the warm and fuzzies from Politico, but this very-relevant article was pretty interesting: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/50761.html

Aatom (#74)

You're not a "whistleblower" if the whistle you're tooting on happens to be around the neck of the military-industrial complex. You're just dead meat.

frabjous (#7,401)

you say "Manning, who is charged with being a military whistleblower …"
Manning is charged with leaking classified information, among other technical offenses related to illegally downloading and transmitting government data.
He seems to fancy himself a whistleblower and I suppose there are those who might agree with that self-conception, but let's be accurate in describing the actual charges against him.

barnhouse (#1,326)

If, as has been alleged, it is Manning who leaked the material to WikiLeaks that was subsequently released as the Collateral Murder video, he is indeed a whistleblower who revealed military abuses to the public. Two of the soldiers involved in this attack on innocents and children, Josh Stieber and Ethan McCord, have since apologized, stating in an open letter, "The Wikileaks video only begins to depict the suffering we have created." I urge you to watch the video, frabjous, if you have not seen it yet, and then say whether or not you would characterize Manning as a whistleblower.

As for Manning's "fancying" himself anything at all, who would know? All we really have to go on is the transcript of Adrian Lamo's alleged IM chat with Manning, in which he is anything but self-regarding. Manning was put in jail very shortly after that chat is alleged to have taken place.

frabjous (#7,401)

I would distinguish between the release of the video, on the one hand, and his indiscriminate (alleged) release of hundreds of thousands of government/diplomatic data. The latter is primarily what's gotten him in so much legal trouble. I'm not sure 'whistleblower' is the right word for his actions, they seem to fall more under the heading of sabotage.

IF he had only released the helicopter video, it would be a different story and I wouldn't object to designating him a whistleblower of sorts.

I think the comical element in this whole story is that a private in the army could somehow get access to so much classified information.

roboloki (#1,724)

the vast majority of that information was not classified.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@roboloki is correct. None of the WikiLeaks cables is Top Secret; the relevant server–SIPRNet, it is called–only stored cables classified Secret and below (details here.) Sixty thousand people have access to the information on SIPRNet according to the Beast's report.

Furthermore, WikiLeaks released the cables to four news organizations, not to the public (Le Monde, Der Spiegel, El Pais and the UK Guardian, who later shared them with the NYT.) Only a few thousand (well under five, I think) have been published so far, and sensitive information redacted.

frabjous (#7,401)

documents classified "secret" or "confidential" are still technically "classified" even if not top secret.

it's fine to have a debate over whether the government is overzealous in classifying documents, but that is not a decision for an Army Private to make.

as others have noted, the disclosures in the wikileaks documents have placed numerous people around the globe in danger, due to the possibility of reprisals if they are identified for having provided information to American officials. this also may prevent others in the future from giving information in the future, which poses risks to U.S. security down the road.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Forgive me, but others have noted wrong. Not one shred of information regarding a single person who has been harmed or endangered by these revelations has been produced, unless you want to count Ben Ali I guess. At this point such evidence would be as precious to this administration as evidence of Iraqi WMD would have been to the previous one, so you'd think we would have seen it by now if there were any. As for preventing the spooks from plying their trade as effectively in future, I'm a hell of a lot more worried about the abuses of those in power than I am about the ability of diplomats to gather information easily. Let 'em work!

btw the extent to which government secrecy has gotten out of control was revealed in horrifying detail in the (excellent) Top Secret America series in the Washington Post from last July.

frabjous (#7,401)

True, I'm not aware of anyone who has been harmed by Manning's actions — not yet; presumably such incidents may take place down the road. But there's no doubt people have been placed in danger.
concerns about "top secret America" are quite valid, all I'm saying is that Manning's "approach" to addressing this problem is at the very least ineffectual — and most likely counterproductive to the cause, in addition to the "national security" risks his actions have posed. (as mentioned in comment below comparing Ellsberg & Manning.)
I look forward to reading the Wash Post article.

joshc (#442)

Is an anti-humiliation article really accompanied by a glowstick photo?

soco (#8,225)

Well, to answer your question: I'm still feeling pretty good about Obama/Biden. I'm not really a one-issue kind of guy, though.

barnhouse (#1,326)

(Maria here) oh please soco, don't get me wrong, so do I. And not only because the mere thought of President McCain turns my blood to Drano. There are a couple of things that really stick in my craw, though, and this one is the most.

soco (#8,225)

Sorry, I didn't mean to be snide! I would completely understand if this was an issue that dominated your concerns. I just don't know how much, on a pragmatic level (and Obama is nothing if not a pragmatic), the President can step in here. I would imagine most of the would-be Republican candidates would be a worse option here as well. So at least for me, it doesn't much color my opinion of his administration.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Oh golly no, not snide (and thank you for the kind response.) It's a subtle question. On the one hand the military is the most hierarchical institution in government, and the President is Commander-in-Chief: they have to do what he says. By that reckoning, he really can just pick up the phone. Politically the matter is more difficult, no doubt. But those of us who believe in whistleblower protections can (re)cast our vote as loudly as possible.

roboloki (#1,724)

i'm in my mid olds and i had never voted for a democrat or a republican for any national office…until obama. i don't think he'll get my vote in 2012.

Manning shouldn't be in prison, he should be getting a fucking medal. He's done more for America than 99 percent of all other E-4s.

Maria, I'm in no way sympathetic to the way that Manning is being treated. But I think it's a bit of a stretch to go from "government employee" to "active military personnel" when discussing whistleblower protection.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Why a stretch, when we are paying their salaries just like we are paying the postman's salary, and the consequences are infinitely worse than anything a postman could get up to. Seriously, I want to know what you think, here, a really lot (also omg you must have been colluding with my husband! We are arguing about this night and day.).

HA! I don't want to be responsible for marital strife!

I understand your logic, on paper, but we all acknowledge that the military has very special rules and procedures that don't apply to civilians. The court martial, for one: civilian government employees aren't subject to that. We also have different rules for trying enemy combatants, military tribunals, the Geneva Convention governing the rules of war, etc.

So all I'm saying is that there are a distinct set of rules that apply to the military, some for good reason. So we can't treat Manning as a run of the mill government employee, regardless of his motives.

Again, this doesn't excuse CWO Barness actions. But I think the Obama administration is dealing with something much more complex than your standard whistleblower scenario.

Honest Engine (#1,661)

Also in no way sympathetic to how Manning is being treated, but if he wanted to be a "whistleblower" he had other, legal avenues he could have pursued with the information he had and which would have actually afforded him legal protection. Instead, he chose to release information the vast majority of would not possibly afford him whistleblower status and, in fact, has probably endangered a great many people. So, dispirited that our military is apparently retaliating in some possibly illegal fashion, but not losing sleep for this guy.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hmm. But are you guys saying that civilians shouldn't have some voice in these matters? That Daniel Ellsberg should have kept his mouth shut?

So far despite an enormous amount of expensive time and effort exactly zero people have been produced who were harmed by the WikiLeaks cables. ("… in fact, has probably"? What?) The cables haven't been released willy-nilly to the public; they're being vetted one at a time by five newspapers, and potentially harmful disclosures redacted.

All that said you guys are right, insofar as I too wish that Manning had been able to deal with this the way Joe Darby did at Abu Ghraib.

frabjous (#7,401)

The Manning case is not particularly comparable to the Ellsberg case. Ellsberg was concerned about a specific topic — the origins, conduct and prognosis of the Vietnam war — and made a highly selective release of documents related to that issue. (7,000 pages according to wikipedia.)

Manning just threw whatever he could find on a CD and passed it along to Wikileaks; there doesn't appear to have been any coherent thought put into it at all, aside from some vague sense of disdain for the U.S. military or American foreign policy. those are perfectly legitimate points of view to have but not a very productive method to address them.

edgeworth (#8,867)

Honest Engine. Let me get this straight: invading foreign countries resulting in literally hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths is OK, but releasing documents that expose the lies and duplicity involved in those wars is not OK because it "endangers lives." I see.

frabjous – Ellesberg has said he considers Manning and Assange new heroes of his.


The Wikileaks documents have done precisely what Manning intended, which is to expose the vast range of terrible, terrible things that governments and companies around the world are engaged in. I suspect you have more respect for Ellesberg than Manning because history has come down on the side of Ellesberg; Manning, on the other hand, has endangered those who are currently in power, and so there's all manner of supposed "debate" about whether his actions were justified or moral. It makes absolutely no sense to condemn Manning while arguing that Ellesburg was a decent dude because, hey, he had "specific" concerns and only released 7000 pages of documents. Probably because he had to photocopy every one of them.

I honestly don't see how you can arrive at the conclusion that Manning put no "coherent thought" into his leaks just because he released such a huge amount of data. Virtually all of that data is newsworthy; virtually all of it reveals illegal or corrupt behaviour that governments have lied about and would rather keep secret. Manning saw that, was angry about it, and thought the public deserved to know. Wikileaks released them and it caused an uproar. How is that not a "productive method" of addressing them? How is the Manning case "not particularly comparable" to the Ellesberg case?

frabjous (#7,401)

Despite Ellsberg's enthusiasm for Manning — there are significant differences between the two, in terms of the nature of the materials released, the extent of the release and their underlying policy objectives.

Ellsberg sought to end the U.S. involvement in Vietnam; he released a (comparatively) limited number of documents, and these documents were all specifically related to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

What are Manning's objectives? what specific changes is he seeking to achieve in the world? is he trying to rid the world of "illegal and corrupt behavior"? fine, I applaud that — so how do each of these leaked documents relate to his objectives? did he even read all of them? do all of them discuss "illegal or corrupt behavior"?

edgeworth (#8,867)

According to Manning he read all of them:

"its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized"

That's from the chat logs. If you haven't read them, you should. They outline his beliefs and motives quite well, and your an assumption that he was a naive, uninformed child is completely baseless.


The concept that before anyone is allowed to leak evidence of corruption and illegal behaviour, they must first file an official outline of their "objectives" and the "changes they seek to achieve in the world," is ridiculous, and even more ridiculous given that Manning actually DID do these things when talking to Lamo.

edgeworth (#8,867)

I don't understand this silly notion that Manning doesn't count as a whistleblower because the information he leaked was classified. So what? It exposed an enormous amount of corruption, illegality, brutality, torture, lies and impropriety. That's whistleblowing. Whether he was "allowed" to release it is laughably irrelevant.

I also don't understand the idea that this is a stain on Obama's otherwise unsullied name. This is a President who has stepped up the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, maintained the Bush administration's worldwide program of abductions and indefinite detention, and expanded the power of the POTUS to include ordering the assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time, with absolutely no judicial control or oversight.

Obama knows very well what is happening to Manning and will do nothing to stop it. In terms of civil liberties and foreign policy, he is literally no better than Bush or McCain.

rrot (#7,827)

So very this.

Matt Cornell (#8,797)

You don't have to be a "one issue kind of guy" to be profoundly disappointed with Barack Obama. The crackdown on whistleblowers isn't the only reason many on the left have become disheartened with Obama.

Many of us are also angry at the continued assault on civil liberties, the expansion of indefinite detentions and renditions, the flip flops on Guantanamo and habeas corpus, the proliferation of secret wars fought largely by unaccountable contractors, the use of drone bombers on civilians in Pakistan & Afghanistan, continued support for the starvation of Gaza and expanded settlements in Palestine, the unprecedented government secrecy, the freeze on domestic spending, the appointment of corporate lobbyists to key cabinet positions and thieves like Summers and Geithner to top economic posts.

Unless these are all just "one issue," you'll have to concede that Obama has been a disappointment, and at least in the area of executive power, has extended his predecessor's extremist agenda.

I'd like to know just what defenses you and Maria would make for Obama's presidency beyond simply asserting that the Republican alternatives are worse or that some abstract value of "pragmatism" requires these kinds of policies.

soco (#8,225)

Well, obviously the "one issue" point is in relation to the post where we're having this discussion. Maria mentioned one issue that could potentially change how people vote for him, not a laundry list. And like I've expressed above, whether you have one reason or many is fine because that's your voting profile.

I could put a laundry list of things Obama's administration has accomplished (in fact, there's a website dedicated to simply that), but the point is irrelevant since we would be arguing on two different grounds.

Matt Cornell (#8,797)

The website you mention was pretty underwhelming, when it wasn't demonstrably false (ie. Obama announces closure of Guantanamo.) Here's an alternative: http://whatinthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/

miette (#2,704)

Right! Exactly! Sing it, Matt Cornell! This sort of complacency is going to drive this country into the can faster than any of the Teabillies will.

I mean (and I don't know how to say this without offending the Obama apologists and defenders), at this point it's akin to asking if you want me to vote for the kill who's going to kill me unrepentantly, or the guy who says he's sorry before he does so. I'm astonished that to see so many exceptionally smart people throwing their own ideals, morals, and basic civil liberties under the bus on a "devil you know" argument. "Me or them" is just as fear-based as anything Bush was ever responsible for.
(oh gad, I overdid it on the caffeine this A.M.)

barnhouse (#1,326)

No doubt we have to keep shrieking at them and always will.

miette (#2,704)

Yes to shrieking! And phone calls, and action. I think back to 2004, and how riled and ready we were on the internet, and how little of that translated into action. And I still suffer nightmares from it.

(And Maria, in my jittered outburst I forgot to add my THANKS for your eloquence and thoughts and continued attention to these abuses. Very well said, as usual…)

barnhouse (#1,326)

Yes, let's shriek together!! (and thank you v. much.)

KarenUhOh (#19)

This is all pretty much par for the Devil's Golf Course, don't you think? Degradation leaking into torture, under the guise of the "prisoner's welfare"?

But then, I'm still trying to get my head around a country that determines its military is more or less sacrosanct. You'll show me thousands of years of history to make your case, and I still won't like it.

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