I often pause in the middle of a busy day, wondering how Bradley Manning is faring in prison. More specifically, I wonder how Bradley is faring in what we would call a normal prison—previously, he was locked up for 19 months in several state-of-the-art Guantanamos deep in the American heartland. He was “kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called ‘prevention of injury order’ and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.”
This only scratches the surface of what Bradley has gone through, but here is not the place to detail why he’s had to go through such hell. In my latest update on his status, I covered what Michael Whitney accurately described as President Obama’s “taking ownership” of this situation. In recent months, the media coverage of Manning has been factually scarce and improperly contextualized, and as a result, his story is almost entirely absent from mainstream American discourse.
Concealing his story, regardless of how much complicity the mass media has had in the case of Bradley’s torture, has been a necessary illusion. Unsurprisingly, the ‘liberal’ press has largely ignored or passively reported the facts and even the story itself. If it were reported at the level of Ron Paul’s “racist” newsletters—if CNN reporters could interrogate his torturers perhaps half has much as Mr. Paul—Bradley’s story would be on the front pages by demand.
Politico recently ran a story detailing the legal viewpoints and gossip opinions of various commanders testifying against him. Putting the incessant quoting of random commanders aside, Politico’s editors knew precisely where to focus: “Bradley Manning’s case has exposed a systemic breakdown in military security.”
“And the fact that a junior soldier was downloading 700,000 reports, most of them classified, didn’t seem to set off any alarms. Nor were there any questions at the time about why an analyst in Iraq needed vast numbers of military reports from Afghanistan, diplomatic cables about Iceland or assessments of detainees at Guantanamo Bay… Security was so lax that anyone with access to the classified network could burn reams of “secret” data to a CD and simply walk out the door.”
The media’s problem isn’t that Bradley is being treated like a physically abused dog, it’s that the US military’s security systems aren’t up to par. Again, and I make this point repeatedly, you could find that kind of criticism of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Pravda. ‘We’re just not fighting it well enough—it needs to be fought better.’
Salon’s coverage of Manning is far better, courtesy of Glenn Greenwald and Justin Elliot reporting with a focus on civil liberties—the real issue behind Manning’s imprisonment and trial. For starters, Manning hasn’t even had the privilege of a trial. His pre-trial was 19 months in a variety of high-security prisons, which he managed to survive. As Elliot notes, it’s difficult to find the notion of “punishment before verdict” in the constitution; but of course, all that matters is how constitutional law is applied, and that may be changing.
It was recently reported that the army is keenly tracking mentions of Bradley Manning on social media, using various forms of tracking software. This kind of bullish tactic, I would argue, is further evidence supporting the idea that the treatment of Manning is purely political; that the government is aiming to “dissuade would-be leakers in the military from releasing information that may be of public interest.” Could the government just be worried about treason? No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. One source, Adrian Lamo, isn’t enough to convict him—and despite the extreme (and internationally illegal) prison treatment, Bradley has refused to pronounce his involvement.
But say we were to accept that premise, namely that the government has plausible grounds to violate civil liberties for security reasons and even because it’s a partially democratic institution. One would still be obligated to look at Bradley’s circumstances, thus properly contextualizing his reasons for leaking (which, we should note, is an act that still hasn’t been proven). In Guardian writers Luke Harding and David Leigh’s book on WikiLeaks, they spend a chapter discussing Bradley’s situation as a soldier in detail, noting his observation of countless incidences of fraud, corruption, and ineptitude in American foreign policies. They also report that he tried to bring it to the attention of those around him—including his superiors.
They blew him off, and Bradley allegedly blew the whistle on a powerful institution. Now it’s time for us to continue to blow the whistle on how this powerful institution is treating Bradley.
“We’ve had a number of wars that would have been averted if we’d had a Bradley Manning, and preferably at a higher level, with access to this information.” — Daniel Ellsberg