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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Whistleblower Bradley Manning's treatment exposes dark side of Obama.
OVER the past 2½ years, all of which he has spent in a military prison, much has been said about Bradley Manning, but nothing has been heard from him. That changed late last week, when the 23-year-old US army private, who is accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, testified at his court martial about the conditions of his detention.
The oppressive, borderline-torturous measures he endured, including prolonged solitary confinement and forced nudity, have been known for some time. A formal UN investigation denounced them as ''cruel and inhuman''. President Barack Obama's State Department spokesman, retired air force colonel P.J. Crowley, resigned after condemning Manning's treatment. A prison psychologist testified last week that Manning's conditions were more damaging than those found on death row, or at Guantanamo Bay.
Barack Obama ... his treatment of Manning a "disgrace". Photo: Reuters
Still, hearing the accused whistleblower's description of this abuse in his own words viscerally conveyed its horror.
''If I needed toilet paper I would stand to attention and shout: 'Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!','' Manning said. And: ''I was authorised to have 20 minutes' sunshine, in chains, every 24 hours.'' Early in his detention, he recalled, ''I had pretty much given up. I thought I was going to die in this eight-by-eight animal cage.''
The repressive treatment of Manning is one of the disgraces of Obama's first term and highlights many of the dynamics shaping his presidency. He not only defended Manning's treatment, but also, as commander-in-chief of the court martial judges, improperly decreed Manning's guilt when he asserted that he ''broke the law''.
Bradley Manning. Photo: AP
Worse, Manning is charged not only with disclosing classified information but of ''aiding the enemy'', for which the death penalty can be imposed (military prosecutors are seeking ''only'' life in prison).
The US government's radical theory is that, although Manning had no intent to do so, the leaked information could have helped al-Qaeda, a theory that essentially equates any disclosure of classified information - by any whistleblower or a newspaper - with treason.
Whatever one thinks of Manning's alleged acts, he appears the classic whistleblower. This information could have been sold for substantial sums to a foreign government or a terrorist group. Instead he apparently knowingly risked his liberty to show them to the world because - he said when he believed he was speaking in private - he wanted to start ''worldwide discussion, debates and reforms''.
Compare the aggressive prosecution of Manning to the US administration's vigorous efforts to shield Bush-era war crimes and massive Wall Street fraud from legal accountability. Not a single perpetrator of those crimes has faced court under Obama, a comparison that reflects the priorities and values of US justice.
Then there's the behaviour of Obama's loyalists.
Ever since I first reported the conditions of Manning's detention in December 2010, many of them not only cheered that abuse but grotesquely ridiculed concerns about it. Joy-Ann Reid, a former Obama press aide and now a contributor on the progressive network MSNBC, sadistically mocked the report: ''Bradley Manning has no pillow?????''. With that, she echoed one of the most extreme right-wing websites, RedState, which identically mocked the report: ''Give Bradley Manning his pillow and blankie back.'' They hold themselves out as adversarial watchdogs, but nothing provokes the animosity of establishment journalists more than someone who challenges government actions.
Typifying this mentality was a CNN interview on Thursday night with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It was to focus on documents revealing secret efforts by US officials to pressure financial institutions to block WikiLeaks' funding, a form of extra-legal punishment that should concern everyone, particularly journalists.
But the CNN host was uninterested. Instead she tried to get Assange to condemn the press policies of Ecuador, a tiny country that exerts no influence. To the mavens of the US press, Assange and Manning are enemies to be scorned because they did the job that the press refuses to do: namely, bring transparency to the bad acts of the US government and its allies.
Manning has bestowed the world with multiple vital benefits. But as his court martial finally reaches its conclusion, one likely to result in a long prison term, it appears his greatest gift is this window into America's political soul.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for The Guardian.