Saturday, August 24, 2013

Musings on Manning

I worked for Reuters back in the 80s and 90s, and still get email sometimes about things that happen to Reuters employees. I got one today concerning the murder of Reuters journalists that was exposed by Pfc Manning, the US soldier recently convicted of leaking confidential documents to WikiLeaks. The email contained a press release from Amnesty International calling on President Obama to pardon Manning, and included a link to a YouTube video: Iraq shooting exposed by Manning and WikiLeaks.

The video is difficult to watch. The dispassionate attitude of the military personnel is offset by the incredible force of their guns - enough force to knock over a minibus. (A minibus containing children.)

Sometimes news coverage gets so caught up in daily details that we forget the real story behind the news: in this case, why Manning leaked confidential US documents. That video certainly reminded me.

In the private electronic exchange that got Manning arrested, Manning sounds haunted. Manning wrote, "If you... saw incredible things, awful things ... things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC ... what would you do?”

During the three years after arrest and before trial, Manning was subjected to conditions so foul that they have been described as torture. Initially Manning was held in an 8 by 8 by 8 foot wire mesh cage, and then was moved to an even smaller 8 by 6 foot cell, in total isolation (even nearby isolation cells were kept vacant). For at least nine months Manning was forced to sleep on his side facing a bright lamp; kept naked and shoeless much of the time, without even sheets or blankets; shackled when leaving the cell; denied access to visitors, including a lawyer, for long periods; and not allowed any amusements, not even pictures or books or writing materials.

Manning has said that the only thing he had to amuse himself was a small mirror, and he spent a lot of time looking at himself. He also said that he danced as much as he could in his tiny cell, just to keep moving (there was no music of course). His guards said in court that he licked the bars on his cell a lot.

Given the prolonged privations and abuse that Manning suffered, I have to wonder about his decision to become a woman. Can a person in that situation be competent to make that decision? Manning is 5'2" and slight, and she (I will respect her gender identification from this point forward) may have thought about gender reassignment in her past life, but lots of people have thoughts about things that they never pursue fully. If Obama actually did pardon Manning and she had a few years to recover from this ordeal, I wonder if her decision would be the same.

My final thoughts about Manning are about the huge difference in outcome for Manning and America's other famous whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was tried for treason but not convicted. Manning got 35 years. There are a lot of differences - class (Ellsberg has a PhD), context (Manning was tried in a military court), government abuse (Nixon's henchmen plotted to kill Ellsberg and raided the office of his psychiatrist), etc - but the essential difference between Manning and Ellsberg seems to be the difference in public opinion. In 1971, the American public was outraged by the lies and abuses that Ellsberg exposed about Viet Nam. People were politically active and engaged. In 2013, the US public consumes infotainment instead of news; they are politically unengaged and ignorant. In short, they could care less about civil and human rights within or outside the US. I wish I could say that Canada was any better.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more!

The Mound of Sound said...

Well put. I hope Obama will pardon Manning after the 2016 election when it won't be an electoral issue. That said, it's obvious who was serving as Commander in Chief during the term of Manning's barbaric, pre-trial incarceration.

Anonymous said...

Canada is just a guilty. Our soldiers were in Afghanistan killing children in the name of defending U.S. democracy. our government allowed the imprisonment and torture of a young innocent Canadian child from Toronto just because he was Muslim. 18 Muslim teenagers from Toronto were also wrongly accused and imprisoned just for being Muslim. More Canadian teenagers in Algeria were also falsely accused of being terrorists just because they were Muslim. Everyday Muslims are persecuted in Canada through illegal surveillance and profiling because the government supports it.