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Written on the Body: The Progressive Torture of Bradley Manning

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)

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From the Rightwing Republicans like Beck? Perh... by Richard Lee on Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010 at 6:07:34 PM
Right after he PO'd the liberals who were actually... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010 at 11:15:15 PM
Well, Chris, would you approve of giving "the ene... by Mike Kimball on Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010 at 7:59:45 PM
Mike you seem like a nice guy. What's your opinion... by Ned Lud on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 7:15:38 PM
Well, Ned, did Pat Tillman release the names of in... by Mike Kimball on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 8:37:04 PM
Pat Tillman is dead.... by Ned Lud on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 10:15:51 AM
There is extremely little truth in this article. ... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010 at 10:28:50 PM
The only torture the boy may be going through are ... by Debbie S on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 12:49:03 PM
Doc is correct. You are wrong.Manning violated th... by Mike Kimball on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 5:39:53 PM
It looks like a bloodbath down there! What the he... by zonie on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 5:57:06 PM
To equate Manning to Thompson is a true travesty o... by Doc McCoy on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 7:00:12 PM
So where do you suppose Adrian Lamo fits into all ... by Ned Lud on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 7:44:24 PM
Hi Ned,Lamo is another diversion in the grand sche... by Mike Kimball on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 9:08:37 PM
just ponting out the fact that Thompson faced simi... by zonie on Saturday, Jan 1, 2011 at 5:53:29 PM
I don't believe in killing, I have never killed an... by Debbie S on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 1:00:42 PM
War is hell. We both can agree with that. I have... by Doc McCoy on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 6:43:39 PM
Perhaps it is hard for you to undo the brain-washi... by Ned Lud on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 7:08:45 PM
Hello again, Ned,Brain washing is not the issue he... by Mike Kimball on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 9:18:03 PM
Hi Mike.It is very clear you are most comfortable ... by Ned Lud on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 10:29:58 AM
That position is the Commander in Chief, AKA Presi... by Mike Kimball on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 11:44:28 AM
I did not willingly join the military my friend. ... by Doc McCoy on Thursday, Dec 30, 2010 at 9:59:42 PM
Well, I've seen a few military movies. Does that c... by Ned Lud on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 10:53:01 AM
A thousand roses to you. You deserve them, your fa... by Debbie S on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 1:36:00 PM
One of the best comments you've made, my friend. ... by Judy Palmer on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 3:54:37 PM
You and I don't see eye to eye.But you being draft... by Debbie S on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 1:28:47 PM
I also understand the stupid Espionage Act. But it... by Debbie S on Friday, Dec 31, 2010 at 8:03:57 PM
It is not only his watch, IT IS HIS COMMAND and he... by Arthur M. Howard-(Scotoni) on Wednesday, Dec 29, 2010 at 1:52:11 AM