Now that a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel has reached the conclusion that President George W. Bush and his top advisers bear “ultimate responsibility” for authorizing torture in violation of domestic and international law, the question becomes what should the American people and their government do. The logical answer would seem to be: prosecute Bush and his cronies (or turn them over to an international tribunal if the U.S. legal system can’t do the job). After all, everyone, including President Barack Obama and possibly even Bush himself, would agree with the principle that “no man is above the law.”
Saudi Arabia is a dangerous place for far too many foreign domestic workers. In 2008, a Human Rights Watch report documented widespread abuse of Asian maids in Saudi households. The organization found that women were routinely subjected to wretched working conditions, as well as emotional, sexual and physical abuse. “She beat me until my whole body burned. She beat me almost every day,” one Indonesian woman told them. “She would beat my head against the stove until it was swollen.” Since most maids are housebound and far from home, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get help. If they do seek aid, the system is stacked against them, activists say.
Last night, PFC Manning was inexplicably stripped of all clothing by the Quantico Brig. He remained in his cell, naked, for the next seven hours. At 5:00 a.m., the Brig sounded the wake-up call for the detainees. At this point, PFC Manning was forced to stand naked at the front of his cell.
Solitary confinement has been used in US prisons since the 19th century, but has become more prevalent with the rise of for-profit supermax prisons in recent years. Studies have found that, depending on the prison, anywhere from 0.5 percent of US prisoners to 20 percent of prisoners are kept in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. The PsySR letter noted that the UN Committee Against Torture has expressed concerns about the use of solitary confinement in US prisons, and noted that, unlike supermax prisoners, Manning has not been convicted of any crime.
Over the course of my visits to see Bradley in Quantico, it’s become increasingly clear that the severe, inhumane conditions of his detention are wearing on Manning. The extraordinary restrictions of Manning’s basic rights to sleep, exercise, and communicate under the Prevention of Injury order are unnecessary and should be lifted immediately.
In a letter dated Monday, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) argued that PFC Bradley Manning, who has been held in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico for the past five months, may be the victim of political retribution. The group also suggested that the psychological damage Manning may be suffering from spending 23 hours a day alone may ruin his bid for a fair trial.
In his internet chat with Adrian Lamo (the guy who turned him in), Manning made it clear that if he was trying to cause problems for the US or had malicious intentions, he could have sold the info to foreign governments. However, his reasoning for leaking the info was clear, saying he was hoping it would cause “worldwide discussion, debates and reform.” He also noted that he was driven to do this after being involved in detaining Iraqis who had simply done a scholarly critique of the current government, which he believed went against basic free speech principles. Again, no matter what you believe about his specific actions, it’s pretty clear his intent was to whistleblow. He was upset about what he felt were illegal activities and his goal was to get that information out and to create discussion leading to reform. That’s the classic definition of whistleblowing.
Clearly the culture at the CIA or any other US intelligence agency is not about to change anytime soon, no matter who is elected president. What I find more disturbing is the lack of attention paid to these cases in the media. The reporting is there, but where is the discussion of what it means for us as a nation and what is to be done about it? Indeed, within the punditocracy, you will find far more defenders of official torture than people questioning how it happens in a nation where it is supposed to be against the law. (The Washington Post just added its second torture champion, Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin, to its stable of pundits, where she will join ex-Bush speechwriter and torture fan Marc Thiessen.)