Tonight, in the tenth year of the 21st century, the government of the United States is torturing a young man — one of its own soldiers — whom it has incarcerated but not indicted. He has been held in solitary confinement for months on end, subjected to techniques of sleep deprivation taken from the Soviet gulag, denied almost all human contact except from interrogators, constantly harassed by guards to whom he must answer every few minutes — all in an attempt to break his mind, destroy his will, degrade his humanity and force him to “confess” to a broader “conspiracy” against state power.
His name is Bradley Manning. He is 23 years old. The “crime” he is accused of committing is releasing video evidence of an American atrocity committed years ago in Iraq: the murder of Iraqi civilians by helicopter gunships. Under the American system of jurisprudence, of course, he is considered innocent until proven guilty of this heinous ‘crime’ of truth-telling. He has not been tried or convicted of this charge, or any other crime.
Yet tonight, in the tenth year of the 21st century, in the United States of America, under the leadership of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama, 23-year-old Bradley Manning is being subjected to same tortures routinely inflicted on other unindicted, untried captives of the militarist state.
Journalist Andy Worthington, who has been one of the most thorough and assiduous chroniclers of the modern American gulag, has noted the parallels between the treatment imposed on Manning and that doled out to earlier prisoners of the bizarre, lawless limbo concocted by the American war machine for those who threaten — or are perceived to threaten — its ever-expanding, ever-more corrupt operations around the world. Worthington states that the conditions of Manning’s imprisonment
bear a marked and chilling resemblance to the conditions in which a handful of US citizens and residents were held as “enemy combatants” under the Bush administration. The key elements here are the elements of profound isolation and suffering … not just the solitary confinement, with no other human being for company, but also the refusal to allow Manning to have a pillow, sheets, or any access to the outside world through the reporting of current affairs.
It is these factors that mark out his conditions of detention as sharing some key elements with the conditions endured by the three “enemy combatants” held on the US mainland under the Bush administration — the US citizens Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, and the US legal resident Ali al-Marri.
… al-Marri, along with two American citizens also held as “enemy combatants” — Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla — was subjected to the same “Standard Operating Procedure” that was applied to prisoners at Guantánamo during its most brutal phase, from mid-2002 to mid-2004. This involved the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including prolonged isolation, painful stress positions, exposure to extreme temperature, sleep deprivation, extreme sensory deprivation, and threats of violence and death. …
There is, at present, no suggestion that Bradley Manning has been subjected to a wide range of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but prolonged isolation is confirmed, and depriving him of a pillow, sheets, or any access to the outside world through the reporting of current affairs are all elements of discomfort and further isolation that were key to the program of belittling and punishing “enemy combatants,” and, crucially, “softening them up” or “breaking” them for interrogation. It is, sadly, all too easy to imagine that other techniques designed to disorientate Manning and to further erode his will — involving elements of sleep deprivation, threats and sensory deprivation — could also be applied, or are, perhaps, already being applied, especially if, as has been suggested by the Independent, the authorities are hoping to cut a plea deal with him, reducing a 52-year sentence in exchange for a confession that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, whom the US is seeking to extradite to the US, was not just a passive recipient of the information leaked by Manning, but was instead a conspirator.
As Glenn Greenwald and others have documented, the known treatment being meted out to Bradley Manning is itself a profound form of torture. Indeed, isolation, sleep deprivation, incessant harassment and constant interrogation were primary methods of the torturers in the Soviet gulag, who in many cases did not resort to more “enhanced” techniques unless the pressure was on from above to produce large numbers of “convictions” and “evidence” of conspiracies in a hurry. These techniques — the same techniques now used under the command of the Peace Laureate — were considered highly effective and severely punishing tortures in their own right. They are now at the center of the American gulag’s treatment of its captives.And, as Worthington ominously notes, we have no way of knowing at this moment whether “enhanced” techniques are being used on Manning as well.
I am running out of words to describe the depths we are sinking into. I am running out of ways to try to shake people from their stupor and shock them into an awareness of the monstrous evil that is rising all around them. Even those who proclaim themselves the progressive friends of all humankind spend most of their time and energy wringing their hands over the political tea leaves, parsing the strategy and tactics of the partisan squabbles between the two scarcely-distinguishable factions of the militarist establishment. And while they are sometimes bold enough to criticize this or that element of the Peace Laureate’s administration, they still fret and fight and pray to keep that administration in power.
But tonight that very administration is torturing a young man — torturing him — for telling the truth about the crimes being committed by the machinery of evil that their standard-bearer, the Peace Laureate, now proudly directs. If you support this administration, then you support the torture of Bradley Manning. You are working to guarantee that such tortures, and worse, are inflicted on more and more truth-tellers, more and more people whose consciences have been jolted to the core by the abominations they have witnessed or learned about from others.
The militarist, corporatist, liberty-stripping evil that our earnest lovers of humanity fear will come to pass if those evil Republicans come to power is already here, it is happening before their very eyes. “Oh, that Glenn Beck, how terrible he is!” Yes, he is terrible, but I tell you this: Glenn Beck hasn’t tortured anyone. Glenn Beck hasn’t killed hundreds of defenseless innocent civilians, men, women and children murdered without any warning by robot drones in an undeclared war on an allied nation. Glenn Beck hasn’t “surged” an endless, pointless, murderous, money-making war of domination against a broken land and its terrorized people. Glenn Beck is not going to court to defend torturers. Glenn Beck is not proclaiming he has the arbitrary, unchallengeable power to assassinate anyone on earth whenever he feels like it.
But the Peace Laureate has done all these things. He is doing all these things, and more. No doubt Glenn Beck — and all the other greasy-pole climbers seeking wealth and domination in our degraded society — would like to do these things too. But those with their eyes fixed on the potential or fantasized future evil of their partisan opponents are blind to the fact that their own faction is committing gross evils right here and now. Barack Obama is entrenching the machinery of evil deeper and deeper into the structures of government and society; he is strengthening the foundations of evil that others will build upon, just as he is building upon the wars and gulags and corporate whoredom of his predecessor. Progressives who support Obama — who support this entrenching process — are in fact guaranteeing that their dystopian nightmares of the future will come true. They are helping Obama clear the path for an even rougher, more merciless beast now slouching toward Washington to be born.
As I said, words are beginning to fail me. And in any case, almost no one is reading the words on this site. [Most of the traffic is drawn by the magnificent — and shattering — collection of Iraq War photos compiled by the webmaster, Rich Kastelein.] So let me end with the words of someone else: the incomparable Arthur Silber, whose mighty heart and incisive mind have blazed with light through many dark years:
I repeat once more: these horrors are now what the United States stands for. Thus, for every adult American, the question is not, “Why do you obey?” but:
Why do you support?
Or will you refuse to give your support? Will you say, “No”? These are the paramount questions at this moment in history, and in the life of the United States. We all must answer them. Our honor, our humanity, and our souls lie in the balance.
UPDATE: After putting this post together, I ran across the latest essay by Chris Hedges at Truthdig. Hedges, like Silber, is one of the very few who have the courage to walk the full walk and live fully by their convictions, despite the cost. Hedges was recently arrested outside the White House of the Peace Laureate, one of many protestors hauled off for speaking the truth about the Laureate’s wars in a manner deemed unseemly in our great democracy.
His new piece is an eloquent description of how the nightmare dystopia noted above is already coming into being, a horrible mash-up of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984.” You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts, beginning with his mention of the Bradley Manning case:
…The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans.
…The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.
… The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.
Hedges also provides a telling passage from Orwell’s novel, where the facts of life are explained to Winston Smith:
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. … The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
These bedrock truths of our time are now being played out on the body and mind of Bradley Manning. The object of Bradley Manning’s torture is not bolstering “national security” or upholding the “rule of law”; the object of his torture is the torture itself: the demonstration of power, the enactment of power, the physical embodiment of power. Power is not a reality until you exercise it — inflict it — upon someone else. And that is the essential, the ultimate concern of the militarist empire that rules us today.