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Brief Summary of the Bradley Manning Case

Some things are harder to write about than others but I have found writing about the Bradley Manning case particularly difficult. I think it is because like healthcare it is an issue that really defines Obama and demonstrates how far we have fallen as a nation. This is item 245 of my Obama scandals list. Item 246 is about the Crowley remarks and firing.

Bradley Manning, a then 22 year old private serving in Iraq, is the alleged source for the following wikileaks releases: Reykjavik13 a test case (February 18, 2010), a Defense Department report on how to destroy wikileaks (March 15, 2010), the Collateral Murder video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack on civilians resulting in the deaths of 2 Reuters reporters (April 5, 2010), the Afghanistan docs (July 25, 2010), the Iraq docs (October 22, 2010), and the State Department cables (from November 28, 2010 onwards). In Iraq, Manning had access to SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) and JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System). SIPRNet as its name implies carried information classified as secret from the Department of Defense and the Department of State. It is accessible by about half a million Americans and various US allies. JWICS did essentially the same thing as SIPRNet but also included higher levels of classification. It appears that little or any of the wikileaks material was classified above secret. There are two other things that should be borne in mind in all this. The government classifies orders of magnitude above what actual security considerations would entail and government officials routinely leak material with much higher classification levels to the Washington press, not to whistle blow but to score political points. Indeed some journalists, like Bob Woodward, have made careers out of publishing such material.

The Obama Administration responded to the leaks in two polar opposite ways. It said that they were a gross breach of national security and would cost lives and that they were nothing much and had resulted in death or injury to no one. This second response is not accurate. One person has been injured by the releases, Bradley Manning.

Manning entered into discussions online in May 2010 with Adrian Lamo, an extremely unreliable hacker who outed him to the FBI. How this all happened is unclear because Lamo who was the source of this information has put out so many different versions of it. On May 26, 2010, Manning was detained in Iraq and formally arrested on May 29. On July 6, 2011, he was charged with putting classified material on to his personal computer and passing it on to those not authorized to receive it. On July 29, 2010, he was transferred to the brig at Quantico, Virginia where he remains.

There he was designated a "maximum custody detainee" and placed under a Prevention of Injury (POI) protocol. What this means is that Manning is held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day; he is allowed to walk one hour a day in shackles, he has limited TV privileges with the set located outside his cell; he must remain visible at all time; he is checked every 5 minutes by guards; he is not allowed to sleep between 5AM and 8PM weekdays and 7AM and 8PM on weekends; if he tries to he is made to sit up or stand by guards; he is allowed short monthly visits again while shackled; he is not allowed to talk to prisoners in other cells; and he may only sleep in boxer shorts, is not allowed sheets, and given only a heavy unshreddable blanket.

Isolation and minute control of a prisoner for extended periods of time is coercive treatment and torture. As of this writing, Manning has been held 9 1/2 months in this way. There is no custodial reason for this. Rather the Obama Administration has two goals in mind. It wishes to make Manning an example to other potential whistleblowers and it seeks to pressure Manning into an admission that wikileaks solicited material from him, making that organization and Julian Assange part of a criminal conspiracy. It doesn't bother the Obama Administration in the slightest that there is zero evidence that such collusion took place and that wikileaks committed no crime in publishing these unsolicited leaks. But that is the point about torture. It is not about getting to the truth. It is about the torturer hearing what the torturer wants to hear.

There have been other attempts to increase pressure on Manning. On January 19, 2011, the Brig Commander on his own and in violation of regulations put Manning on the even stricter suicide watch. This required Manning to sleep naked and stand naked outside his cell during morning report. In addition his eyeglasses were taken away from him. Manning's attorney filed a complaint. The suicide watch was rescinded January 20, 2011, and the Brig Commander was subsequently removed. On March 2, 2011, Manning's petition to downgrade him from POI status was rescinded. Manning joked with guards about the ridiculousless of his trying to kill himself with his underwear and flipflops. This resulted in Manning again being put on suicide watch from March 2-10, 2011. Also on March 2, 2011, the military came out with a new charge sheet against Manning with two new charges: that he did "knowingly give intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means" and that he did "wrongfully and wantonly cause to be published on the internet intelligence belonging to the United States government, having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accessible to the enemy." Giving aid to the enemy has it is more commonly known is an offense that carries the death penalty, although the Pentagon told Manning's attorney it would be seeking life in prison instead. Also the previous charges were expanded and upgraded to theft knowing that such theft would injure the US or advantage a foreign power.

If you want evidence of an out of control Administration, the Bradley Manning case is it. This isn't about national security. Its about embarrassment and control. The Afghanistan and Iraq documents simply confirmed what most already knew about the US role in both conflicts. The State Department cables supplied us with many new specifics, but again the overall import that the US is comfortable dealing with corrupt and dictatorial powers around the world is again widely known. Rather the damage done by these leaks is that taken together they show how routinely and often the government lies to us, US citizens. The abusive treatment of Bradley Manning is all about punishing and intimidating those who would try to get the truth out to the American public. Most of what Manning is charged with leaking should not have classified in the first place. As I said, SIPRNet was accessible to a half million people as well as to various foreign governments. The idea that this information wasn't available to anyone really interested in acquiring it is patently ridiculous. No, the real people they wanted to keep this information from was we the public. If we had a government that was even minimally open and truthful, there would have been no need for a Bradley Manning. But we don't have such a government and so we need Bradley Mannings to lift the rock and show us what is crawling underneath it. Because we have the government we have, Bradley Manning cannot be dealt with in the usual way. He must be made an EXAMPLE. He must be mistreated. He must be charged with something as close to heresy or treason as possible. And showing that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans, it is not Bush, but Barack Obama, who is leading the charge in this persecution and inquisition.

Item 246:

On March 10, 2011, addressing a small audience at MIT, the head spokesman of the State Department P.J. Crowley called the detention and treatment of Bradley Manning "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid."

The next day Obama in one of the most cynical responses on record said,

"I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are."

Unfortunately for Manning, torture is our country's most basic standard. Let bankers steal trillions. Obama sees nothing to investigate let alone prosecute. But let an ordinary American shed a little light on how what used to be called "our" government lies to us and that person must be crushed. Crowley has actually been a good soldier of this Administration during his tenure at State. This was apparently though a bridge too far even for him, and in an unguarded moment he spoke the truth. On March 13, 2011, Crowley was forced to resign. A truth, even a little truth spoken to a few, is more than this Administration can take.

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twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

but there's so little outrage. It's a mystery to me why more people aren't upset about this.

It's not particularly convoluted, like financial fraud. Just the "innocent until proven guilty" aspect should be a major issue. It's a simple, straightforward concept, but apparently even that abomination is not registering.

Thanks for this excellent summary, Hugh. More people need to understand what's going on with Manning -- and Crowley -- and this makes it very accessible.

Submitted by Anne on

have to trying to discuss this with people who just don't get it. People who don't see what the problem is with solitary confinement, people who don't see what the big deal is about sleeping "in the nude," people who don't understand that we don't punish people who might be in danger from others, and we aren't supposed to punish people before they have been afforded due process and been convicted of something. And even then, that this kind of treatment is cruel and unusual - or at least it used to be unusual, but thanks to the powers that be, it's becoming more and more normal.

And then there are those who expect us to be contented with the reationale that "this is just the way it is" in the military.

I ask them, what if Bradley Manning were sitting in detention in a foreign country? What would be our response to that? Would we be okay with it? Would we accept "assurances" that he was being held in accordance with specified procedures?

Oh, but, we don't know all the facts, so we can't really say whether what is happening to Manning is okay...seriously, that's what people are thinking. We can't accept what Manning's lawyer says, because we all know that lawyers will say anything to get their clients off, right? Never mind that the good people at Quantico haven't disputed any of the allegations regarding Manning's treatment.

It is shameful, because it is just one more instance that is marking a slow, but steady shift away from a presumption of innocence - even as people like Obama deliver stirring speeches about the wonders of our democratic society.

It all just rings so hollow to me; it is turning me into a cynical, distrustful person who is feeling more like apologizing for what my country is becoming than praising it.

Thanks for the synopsis, Hugh; I hope it gives people something to think about.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

A) ...[T]he Obama administration...seeks to pressure Manning into an admission that Wikileaks solicited material from him, making that organization and Julian Assange part of a criminal conspiracy. It doesn't bother the Obama Administration in the slightest that there is zero evidence that such collusion took place and that Wikileaks committed no crime in publishing these unsolicited leaks. But that is the point about torture. It is not about getting to the truth. It is about the torturer hearing what the torturer wants to hear.

B) ...[T]he Obama administration...wishes to make Manning an example to other potential whistle blowers... Bradley Manning cannot be dealt with in the usual way. He must be made an EXAMPLE. He must be mistreated. He must be charged with something as close to heresy or treason as possible. And [because it is important to show that there is] no difference between Democrats and Republicans [in national security matters, among others,] it is...Barack Obama [this time, not Bush,] who is leading the charge in [the] persecution...

C) [Both of the above.]

(I'm guessing the administration is little concerned with building a case against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. An administration proving its case in a national security matter is just so last millennium.)

Submitted by Anne on

deciding that what Manning is being subjected to isn't torture - haven't you been paying attention?

Or taking the word of the Pentagon that everything's on the up-and-up.

Or - I kid you not - "but, but, he did what no other president has been able to do - pass the most liberal legislation ever - health care reform!"

I have no doubt that while these latest events are making some of the more reliable Obama cheerleaders uncomfrotable, I suspect it will only be until they finish talking themselves out of it.

I can hardly wait to see what shape the contortions take - I'm pretty sure they will be doozies.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

When Mitt Romney put through HeritageCare here in MA, "progressives" forgot to call it the most liberal program evah. Odd, that.

Submitted by lambert on

Just as on fiscal policy and deficit terrorism, it's not the right that's the problem; they do what they do, more or less like a force of nature. It's the so-called left that runs interference for them by advocating a watered-down version of the same policies that's the problem. Give me honest hate from the conservatives as opposed to the obfuscation from the career "progressives".... The NPR thing is a classic case of this.