Less Assange, More Manning.

The other day, Naomi Klein sent out a tweet in which she asked for “an [international] moratorium on feeding [Julian] Assenge’s ego”. Count me in. Some may say #mooreandme is a distraction from The Big Picture.

But you know who the real distraction is?

Julian fucking Assange.

Seriously, how much real estate and bandwidth has been wasted (and yours truly is most certainly not exempt) on the romantic, straight-from-a-lost-Neal-Stephenson-manuscript exploits of this psuedo-revolutionary hacker messiah (the import of whom has been, I would wager, greatly exaggerated, with apologies to the revolutionary zealotry of Those Damn Communists) that could have been used to discuss the particulars contained within the cables? The broader implications of radical transparency vs. overwhelming and many times unnecessary bureaucratic secrecy? Non-state actors leveling the playing field and exposing the increasing irrelevance of the nation state?

How about the unconscionable treatment of suspected leaker PFC Bradley Manning?

Let’s talk about Manning for a bit, since we’ve established that Assange is long past due for his Fonzie moment. Jill highlights the dichotomy between Assange’s personality cult and the relative silence regarding Manning:

Manning…doesn’t have a name that has become synonymous with the WikiLeaks project; he doesn’t have the same cult of personality surrounding him as Assange. In fact, you can’t even blame lying bitches for his incarceration. To talk about Manning, we’d have to talk about the actual content of the information posted by WikiLeaks; we’d have to get into whether states ever need secrets, and what degree of transparency we should be demanding, and how much the public has a right to know, and whether anything should be obscured from public view. We’d have to address a figure who did some complicated things, and who doesn’t have the enormous support that Assange does. We’d have to talk about the fact that WikiLeaks is way, way bigger than just Assange. We’d have to muddle through conflicting ideals of transparency and safety and freedom and security. We’d have to do the hard stuff, in other words, the stuff that doesn’t fit as cleanly into back-patting blog posts and one-time donations. [Michael] Moore, to his credit, publicly supports the release of Bradley Manning, and spread the word about pro-Manning protests on his website. But Manning certainly hasn’t gotten the attention from the left that Assange has; he hasn’t become the poster boy for free speech and transparency. The accusations against Manning — stuff that actually relates to WikiLeaks — have been largely obscured.

Last week Glenn Greenwald drew attention to the conditions faced by Manning in detention:

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement.  For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell.  Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions.  For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch).  For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.  Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.

In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado:  all without so much as having been convicted of anything.  And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig’s medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.

Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture.  In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article — entitled “Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?” — the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, “all human beings experience isolation as torture.”  By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person’s mind and drives them into insanity.  A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law explains that “solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.”


When one exacerbates the harms of prolonged isolation with the other deprivations to which Manning is being subjected, long-term psychiatric and even physical impairment is likely.  Gawande documents that “EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement.”  Medical tests conducted in 1992 on Yugoslavian prisoners subjected to an average of six months of isolation — roughly the amount to which Manning has now been subjected — “revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement.  Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”  Gawande’s article is filled with horrifying stories of individuals subjected to isolation similar to or even less enduring than Manning’s who have succumbed to extreme long-term psychological breakdown.

While Julian Assange plays cosmotarian fame-pire fugitive and makes plans to pen his memoirs, PFC Manning (who has yet to be convicted of a crime) is, for all intents and purposes, being tortured (yes, solitary confinement 23/7 is torture) by the US government while being held, until recently, incommunicado at Quantico. That what Manning is enduring is not necessarily abnormal within the US military prison system is no excuse, but rather a further indictment of DoD policy.

It should also be noted that there has been credible speculation (by both Boing Boing and Gawker) about Manning’s gender identity (h/t Voz Latina).  If Manning is indeed a trans woman, detaining hir in a mens prison (or possible DADT-related measures, though how repeal impacts this remains to be seen) could add to the already lengthy list of possible civil rights violations on the part of the US government. One hopes the UN takes this into account as part of its investigation of Manning’s detention conditions.

Regardless of how one views the actions of PFC Manning (for the record, I’m ambivalent about lionizing hir with Ellsberg comparisons), just as we demand justice for terror detainees when civil liberties are trampled so too must we stand in solidarity with those accused of treason. Due process is a key pillar of any healthy democratic society, regardless of the charges. The fact that American democracy is far from healthy makes it even more imperative for those who value the rule of law to loudly and firmly demand justice for PFC Manning.

There is simply no good reason, and no justification, for the nakedly punitive actions against PFC Manning undertaken by the US government.

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