The Washington Post today reports that Bradley Manning, the Army private who is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of cables and other classified material to Wikileaks, had been deemed by doctors to be unfit for deployment to Iraq. He was sent anyway. From the Post story:
A mental health specialist recommended that the Army private accused of leaking classified material to the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks not be deployed to Iraq, but his immediate commanders sent him anyway, according to a military official familiar with a new Army investigation.
The recommendation by the specialist at Fort Drum, N.Y., did not disqualify Pfc. Bradley E. Manning from being sent to Iraq. The final decision on whether a soldier is fit to go to a war zone rests with his immediate commanders.
But an Army investigation has concluded that the commanders’ decision not to heed the specialist’s advice and their failure to properly discipline Manning may have contributed to one of the most high-profile classified military network breaches in decades, the military official said.
Manning, 23, an intelligence analyst, has been accused of downloading classified State Department and Pentagon files onto his personal computer. Last summer, he was charged with transmitting classified material to an unauthorized person.
The Army investigation, which is separate from an ongoing criminal inquiry, found that Manning’s immediate supervisors did not follow procedures for overseeing the secure area where the classified information was kept, greatly increasing the risk of a security breach, the official said. …
There was plenty of other evidence that something wasn’t quite right with Manning. Last week, McClatchy News Service scooped today’s WaPo story, detailing discipline problems (including throwing chairs at colleagues) at Fort Drum.
And there have been lots of accounts about Manning’s personal torment, over “lectures” from an ex-boyfriend, anger at the Army, and other agonies he railed about on his Facebook page.
But the current crux of the Manning drama is over his treatment in a detention facility at Quantico, where he awaits trial on eight federal charges including “unauthorized computer access, and transmitting classified information to an unauthorized third party.”
Orbiting the center of the Manning drama along with Julian Assange, Michael Moore and a mysterious group of hackers (or hacker) calling themselves “Anonymous,” are Firedoglake editor Jane Hamsher and Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald, two prominent bloggers who have been anointed by much of the media as spokesmen for the “liberal movement,” (not that one exists.) Hamsher’s FiredogLake and particularly Greenwald (who I should note apparently took ill this week…) have expended copious amounts of bandwith asserting that Manning is being held in inhumane conditions at Quantico — or even tortured. The accusations have made Hamsher and Greenwald central characters in the Wikileaks story. Not everyone believes that’s a good thing.
Believe it or not, not all liberals think alike. And last week, the dissension between those who believe Manning is a hero political prisoner who should be canonized along with Daniel Ellsberg, and those who see him as a guy who violated his Army oath by allegedly handing classified cables over to a foreign media outlet and is now paying the rather predictable consequences — erupted in a Twitter battle between Hamsher, Greenwald and a liberal Twittizen who goes only by Shoq. (Full disclosure, Shoq is someone I’ve come to know and like.)
Shoq has repeatedly challenged the sourcing of the assertion made by Greenwald, Hamsher and others that Manning is being mistreated, abused, even “tortured” while in military custody — a very serious charge indeed, which should require some very solid sourcing.
Pentagon officials have tried to refute the torture claims, which has sparked inquiries by some human rights organizations. The military certainly didn’t help itself by replacing the commander in charge of the Quantico brig at precisely the time the torture allegations were swirling. But as Shoq pointed out last week in a tweet to a friend, the sole sources for those human rights groups appear to have been Manning’s attorney (who seems to be doing a fine, appropriately forceful job of advocating for his client,) a friend or acquaintance of Manning’s named David House, who wrote this account of a visit late last year with Manning, an “expert” cited on FiredogLake who has never interviewed Manning personally, and Greenwald himself. That claim by Shoq touched off the Twitter war between Shoq and Greenwald, which lasted the better part of a day, ultimately drawing in Hamsher, too (she now seems to be nursing a pretty serious vendetta against Shoq, and is now even suggesting his Twitter followers be “tracked”… whatever that means…)
A clip from Shoq’s comprehensive post on the back and forth, gets to his main bone of contention, which is not Greenwald or Hamsher per se, but the media’s handling of their allegations:
My issue and complaint are over how these two bloggers—let’s call them Team Manning—have made these charges week after week, and the mainstream media have done little more than take stenography from them about Manning’s treatment. Go and Google “Manning and Greenwald” and you’ll get 216,000 hits. Then peruse a few dozen of the stories which have appeared in the media and try to find any facts not directly attributed to Team Manning. Let me know what you find. I ask rhetorically because I’ve tried. It won’t be much. What you will find is endless retelling of Team Manning’s regular reports, harangues and condemnations, often framed as exposes, which are always aimed directly at a global news audience that they know to be primed and ready to devour anything Manning and/or Wikileaks.
Among other things I am not, is a journalism professor or a media critic, but to my untrained eye, some of the Team Manning stories have seemed like such ginned-up polemics, that I can imagine serious journalists blanching at the reaching, supposition, speculations or just self-righteous moral posturing around which many of their stories revolve. Even when the facts appear to be sound, the conclusions spun from them seem painted with such an uncritical or hyperbolic brush that they come off as mere ideological joy rides on the way to a red herring eating contest. As journalism, they feel more like train wrecks.
Is Team Manning right? Is Bradley Manning, who is being held for possible espionage against these United States, being treated so badly that it rises to the level of inhumane imprisonment—or even torture? I really have no idea. But if they are, I sure don’t know it from Team Manning’s hyperbolic and often inflammatory reporting, nor from the worldwide echo chamber reverberating from it each day in the mainstream media. If there is any agenda behind my writing this post, beyond merely venting my spleen about what has been an excessive amount of really shoddy Wikileaks coverage from most sources in general, it is that I’d like to start a larger discussion about the many ways our media is failing us. It’s a failure that happens far too often, with far too many impacts, and in too many ways that are not being adequately offset by bloggers, citizen journalists, or other alternative media. And if we don’t find a way to improve this sad state of affairs, we might as well just surrender now, and let the much more media-savvy Fox Party take over. They probably will anyway.
Having voiced my pretensions toward loftier purpose, let me descend back to earth as a simple Corpizen™ who just wants some responsible reporting from our media. With respect to Manning, that means getting more than the daily agenda-laden diatribes of two bloggers who are consistently contemptuous of the Obama administration, and work tirelessly to condemn any and all examples of its executive overreach, or any other abuses of power that they can find, allege, speculate, and most of all, furiously fulminate about.
Read the whole post, which includes links to the Twitter war itself, here.
I have to agree that allegations of something as egregious as torture need to be advanced cautiously, because even if not yet proven, once they enter the media/Internet bloodstream, they take on a life of their own, and morph very quickly from allegation to reality. Case in point: MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, writing in the Huffington Post, rather matter of factly refers to the “torture of Bradley Manning.” And in this CBS News article about the Quantico commander being replaced, the word “torture” is included as a matter of rote.
It should go without saying that the torture of any prisoner is inherently immoral, and illegal under both international, and thanks to the belated action of Congress and immediate action by Barack Obama upon becoming president, American law. I’ve written plenty about the Bush administration’s odious torture regime, and the bizarre views of some of his henchmen like John Yoo. And as I’ve written before, I find the Obama administration’s insistence on “moving on” when it comes to the issue of torture, secret detention and domestic spying by his predecessor — leaving the dirty work to the international community — particularly when his January 2009 executive order implicitly acknowledges torture happened — to be uncategorically shameful.
Further, if something like what occurred at Abu Ghraib, or what allegedly happened to American citizen Jose Padilla, is being done to Bradley Manning, it should be found out and the perpetrators prosecuted, full stop. However — and this is important — at this stage, no such torture has been proved. And nothing like the Padilla treatment has even been alleged. What we do have are allegations from Greenwald that Manning has been put in “solitary confinement”; denied blankets and a pillow, possibly stripped of his glasses, and confined to his cell for 23 hours with only one-hour for exercise, with that hour at some point also denied. Also, he allegedly was placed on suicide watch for two days, during which, as in civilian prison, blankets and other potential implements for self-annihilation by hanging are taken away. (Ironically, the new stories about Manning’s mental state even before being deployed to Iraq make Greenwald’s protests that placing Manning on suicide watch were outrageous seem a bit less credible.)
Let’s go back to the firsthand account of Manning’s treatment by House. As excerpted in this snarkily titled, but otherwise, I think, on point Gawker article:
It doesn’t sound fun. Maybe it qualifies as inhumane. And House certainly demonstrates that Army officials are lying when the describe how pleasantly he’s being treated. But does it sound like torture to you?
(HOUSE:) Manning related to me on December 19 2010 that his blankets are similar in weight and heft to lead aprons used in X-ray laboratories, and similar in texture to coarse and stiff carpet. He stated explicitly that the blankets are not soft in the least and expressed concern that he had to lie very still at night to avoid receiving carpet burns. The problem of carpet burns was exacerbated, he related, by the stipulation that he must sleep only in his boxer shorts as part of the longstanding prevention of injury order. Manning also stated on December 19 2010 that hallway-mounted lights shine through his window at night. This constant illumination is consistent with reports from attorney David Coombs’ blog that marines must visually inspect Manning as he sleeps.
Manning sleeps on a mattress with a built-in pillow and an uncomfortable blanket, a state of affairs that Greenwald described as a “vindictive denial of a pillow or sheets.” The denial probably is vindictive, or maybe it’s because—despite a psychiatrist’s finding that Manning is not a suicide risk—they don’t want him to have access to cloth that can be fashioned into a noose. Either way, is it that big a deal, all things considered?
It’s a valid question, even from Gawker. And stipulating that prison confinement is never pleasant, often really, really ugly in your average American lockdown, I’d have to say that the conditions described above cheapen the word “torture” when they are described that way. Gawker continues:
The most serious claim about Manning’s confinement is his lack of exercise. According to House, Manning said he had not been permitted outdoors for a full month prior to their visit, and despite getting an hour a day to exercise, he “is [only] able to exercise insofar as walking in chains is a form of exercise.” This is at odds with the Army’s claims that Manning is permitted to do “activities [that] may include calisthenics, running, basketball.” Barring even basic physical activity certainly seems inhumane and wrong, but again—is it the stuff of a U.N. investigation?
Manning also says he’s not allowed access to news—”when I said ‘The Pentagon has stated that you are allowed newspapers,’” House wrote, “his immediate reaction was surprised laughter.” He gets an hour of television a day, but there are no news programs on the channels available to him during that time slot.
Many of the restrictions Manning faces are due to a Prevention of Injury order, designed to keep him from hurting himself. House and Greenwald quite reasonably want that order lifted. If I were Manning, or a friend of his, I would certainly be raising hell about every overstarched blanket.
But the bottom line is that there is nothing even remotely unusual about the conditions under which Manning is currently confined. There are literally thousands of people—by one estimate as many as 20,000 [pdf]—in this country in solitary confinement right now. It is a distressingly routine technique. To the extent that it is inhumane, illegal, unconstitutional, and violative of international law—which it may be—there are thousands of people in line ahead of Manning awaiting their U.N. investigations.
And to use the word “torture” to describe Manning’s treatment—based on what we know so far—undermines the noble effort over the past decade by people like Greenwald to define that word in a way that criminalizes the perverse techniques employed by the Bush Administration. Even those who argue that solitary confinement is indisputably torture acknowledge that the confinement must be lengthy in order to qualify. Manning has been imprisoned for six months. You are not being tortured if you are denied access to a newspaper.
Now, for a second, contrast the details of Manning’s confinement with those of Padilla, who was originally accused of plotting a “dirty bomb” attack on the United States, but was ultimately never charged with that, because the Bush administration had no actual evidence of it. Padilla was held incommunicado in a Navy brig for two and a half years:
Jose Padilla was the first and only American citizen to be held without charge after being labeled an “enemy combatant” by President Bush. A 36-year-old former Chicago gang member, he was arrested in June 2002, following his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The U.S. claimed he had been sent by al-Qaeda to blow up a radioactive “dirty bomb” in an American city.
Now, after more than three years in custody, Padilla’s lawyers are claiming that new images taken from a government video show that he received unduly harsh treatment while being held at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. The pictures, still shots from an unclassified Department of Defense video, show his hands and feet shackled as he wears headphones and blacked-out goggles while being escorted by three guards dressed in helmets and riot gear to a dental appointment.
The new material was filed in federal court in Miami late last week, and was first reported by the New York Times. The filing comes as part of an attempt by Padilla’s lawyers to win dismissal of criminal charges against him for supporting terrorism. The lawyers argue that Padilla was subjected to the equivalent of torture while in U.S. military custody, and that the experience has left him psychologically damaged and unable to participate in his own defense.
… “The extended torture visited upon Mr. Padilla has left him damaged, both mentally and physically,” said one court filing by Orlando do Campo, one of Padilla’s lawyers. Padilla’s filing also says that he was subjected to sleep deprivation and extremes of heat and cold, forced to stand in “stress positions” that can be painful, and given “truth serum” to make him talk.
Again, that was before he was charged.
And while it’s dangerous to wade into the weeds of equivalency when it comes to such matters, the Guardian’s James Ridgeway — an opponent of prisoner isolation — does just that in assessing Manning’s situation:
Bradley Manning’s treatment undeniably deserves this attention. But while Manning’s punishment is cruel, it is far from unusual. According to available data, there are some 25,000 inmates in long-term isolation in America’s supermax prisons, and as many as 80,000 more in solitary confinement in other facilities. Where is the outrage – even among progressives – for these forgotten souls? Where, for that matter, is some acknowledgment of their existence?
To be fair, a few of the writers who champion Manning have mentioned in passing the widespread use of solitary confinement in the United States. But more often, these writers – and their readers, if comments are any measure – have gone to some lengths to distinguish Bradley Manning from the masses of other prisoners being held in similar conditions. Whether explicitly or implicitly, they depict Manning as exceptional – and therefore, as less deserving of his treatment and more worthy of our concern.
Frequently, writers and readers make the point that Manning is being subjected to these conditions while he is merely accused, rather than convicted, of a crime. Perhaps they need to be introduced to the 15-year-old boy who, along with several dozen other juveniles, is in isolation in a jail in Harris County, Texas, while he awaits trial on a robbery charge. He is one of hundreds – if not thousands – of prisoners being held in pre-trial solitary confinement, for one reason or another, on any given day in America. Most of them lack decent legal representation, or are simply too poor to make bail.
We have also seen articles suggesting that Manning’s treatment is worse than the standard for solitary confinement, since he is deprived even of a pillow or sheets for his bed. Their authors should review the case of the prisoners held in the St Tammany parish jail, in rural Louisiana. According to a brief by the Louisiana ACLU:
“After the jail determines a prisoner is suicidal, the prisoner is stripped half-naked and placed in a 3? x 3? metal cage with no shoes, bed, blanket or toilet … Prisoners report they must curl up on the floor to sleep because the cages are too small to let them lie down.”
The cells are one-fourth the size mandated by local law for caged dogs.
There are, of course, consequences to dissenting from the metastasizing view on the left that Manning is being tortured while in custody at Quantico. Even my brief foray into the Shoq-Greenwald Twitter fight last week got me labeled as a mindless Obama shill in bed with the odious crowd at RedState.com by Greenwald (which was not the worst thing someone said about me that day.)
That response is typical of what happens when anyone refutes a Greenwald claim, or takes issue with his reporting. Wired in particular, but also other news outlets have been slammed by Greenwald on his Salon blog for not reporting on the Wikileaks story the way he wants them to. In fact, any Wikileaks reporting or commentary that does not paint Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as truth-revealing heroes on the level of Daniel Ellsberg is derided as mindless playthings of Barack Obama – whose administration Greenwald, Hamsher (along with PCCC founder Adam Green and others on the “pro-left”) make pretty clear on a regular basis they roundly despise.
Internecine twitter warfare aside, I think the Manning imbroglio has the potential to be destructive in another way. As I’ve pointed out before, the fact that Greenwald at one point tried to find Manning a lawyer raises serious questions about whether he is the appropriate journalist to be covering this story. And the unsubstantiated allegations of “torture,” gleefully taken up by FDL and Greenwald’s many, many followers and supporters, could be just as injurious to the U.S. military — who at the end of the day are the accused here — as, say, a random Army private deciding that because his life is a mess he has the right to declassify 250,000 State Department cables.
But I digress…
The journalistic problem comes from the seeming points of convergence between the major players in the story, which includes a bunch of former hackers who seem to be traveling in a single orbit. In his postscript to his original post, Shoq asks the following questions of David House, one of only three people to have actually seen Bradley Manning since his incarceration (the others are an aunt, and Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs). Shoq asks of House:
When did you actually meet Bradley Manning (whom you characterized as a “friend of friends,” even one time?” In researching your story, and your Boston programming associates, I cannot seem to get an answer to this riddle. Is it possible that, until you visited him at Quantico Brig for the first time, and began your storied TV career, that you had not actually met him even once before? All I can find are connections to at least one complicit associate of Adrian Lamo (who outed Manning). But surely you had other connections between those hackers, also deeply implicated in the Wikileaks affair… right? I’d appreciate your answer, by Tweet or direct message. Thank you. [Emphasis added]
Which leads us to Shoq’s next post, on January 31st, which raises questions about another source of the “torture” allegations: the “expert” that Hamsher and Greenwald cite to “prove” that Manning — who neither of them have seen firsthand (their information comes from Mr. House) is being tortured. An excerpt:
“locking up someone who has not presented any kind of threat to other prisoners and who has not been convicted of a crime for months on end in solitary confinement under tight restrictions is torture.” The psychologist and torture specialist Jeffrey Kayemade the same argument.
So who is Dr. Kaye? Is he an expert on torture? A top psychiatrist? Well… turns out he is an FDL blogger, which means that FDL is citing its own blogger as an expert on torture, in posts alleging torture, which then form the basis of Greenwald’s allegations of torture. More to the point, that fact is not being disclosed, which from a journalistic point of view is problematic at best. And what is Dr. Kaye’s background?
- He’s a Ph.D who maintains a family therapy practice in San Francisco that, according to his resume, “worked with individuals and couples with psychological, emotional and relational problems for over twelve years.”
- As a hobby or sideline, it appears that he’s also spent much of the past decade focused on the Guantanamo detainees, and has blogged aggressively on related pet subjects for his own blog called “Invictus,” as well as Alternet, Truthout.org, DailyKos/Valtin,Jason Leopold’s ThePublicRecord, and finally, again as Valtin on AmericanTorture.com. (Do you get the sense yet that Dr. Kaye is fairly accomplished at finding claims of torture almost as frequently as he manages to create sensational blog posts about them?)
- On January 27th, 2008, he resigned from the American Psychological Association, because he was disgusted with their “complicity” with the U.S. Government’s practice of torturing inmates. However, this has not stopped him from continuing to cite his membership on his resume, despite that page’s last modified date being July 8th, 2009.
- He is a local member of Survivors International (SI) conducting psychological evaluations and offering psychotherapy for refugees applying for political asylum in the United States.
But more germane… than any of these other activities and interests, which generally seem to pigeonhole him as another Greenwald-esque, U.S. Government hating champion for truth and justice, Kaye is also a member of the Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), a group dedicated to advocacy for a broad spectrum of war and human rights related issues.
Now that’s not to say there’s something inherently wrong with a family therapist becoming a human rights advocate, or even blogging for FiredogLake. All of that is perfectly fine.
But to review, what we have is a case of an acquaintance of Mr. Manning’s — about whom we’re not sure how the acquaintance was made — asserting torture in posts on FDL, and then another FDL blogger, Dr. Kaye, translating those accounts into accusations of torture, which then get amplified by Mr. Greenwald, who was at one point involved in trying to secure Manning a lawyer, which then wind up on the desks of international human rights organizations and news outlets, which repeat the very serious charge of torture, citing Mr. Greenwald, who’s citing FDL.
Throw in the fact that 1) FDL is also fundraising off these claims, and 2) Mr. Greenwald has written and is soon to publish a book on in his words: ”America’s two-tiered justice system that devotes substantial attention — including an entire long chapter — on the way in which America’s Prison State is profoundly oppressive based on race and class lines, with a focus on the inhumane conditions of imprisonment…” and you have the makings of a very strange situation — one in which some of the players appear — just appear — to be a bit too close to the subject matter.
Postscript: Manning as ‘hero’
I will admit that to my mind, Manning’s case is problematic for another reason. Again, stipulating that not all liberals think alike, I just don’t get the lionization of this guy by some on my side of the ideological spectrum.
After all, Mr. Manning is no Specialist Joe Darby, who received death threats and had to sleep with a gun under his pillow after he sparked the revelation to the world that Americans were torturing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. From a December 2006 story about Darby:
The worldwide photos of mistreatment at Abu Ghraib were initially known because of a whistleblower at that Guantanamo prison, Army Spc. Joe Darby. The damage to America’s image was cited by departing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in his farewell address at the Pentagon, when he said that the worst day of his tenure was the release of those pictures of our prisoners being abused.
In the Dec. 10 interview with Spc. Darby on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” he told how the photos had been given to him by one of the perpetrators of the abuse, his friend, Charles Graner, now in prison. Knowing, as he says, the difference between right and wrong, Spc. Darby, anonymously, turned the pictures over to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. But they knew where he worked, and the investigation began on who gave him the pictures.
Spc. Darby told “60 Minutes” interviewer Anderson Cooper that he had no idea the photos would go around the world; “but you can’t stand by and let this happen.”
Several months later, “60 Minutes II” obtained the pictures from another source; a New Yorker magazine article revealed Spc. Darby’s name; and Mr. Rumsfeld said, at the time, in testimony before Congress that among those “who did their duty professionally” when the story broke was “First Specialist Joseph Darby, who alerted the appropriate authorities that abuses were occurring.”
While still at Guantanamo, Spc. Darby, in fear of retaliation, slept with a gun under his pillow. The Army decided to bring him back to the United States, ahead of his unit. Back home in Cumberland, Md., the whistleblower was a pariah. The commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, Colin Engelbach, told “60 Minutes” Spc. Darby “was a rat. He was a traitor. He let his unit down, he let his fellow soldiers down.”
Spc. Darby heard that in Cumberland, people who had known him since he was born “my parents’ friends, my grandparents’ friends turned against me.” And his wife, Bernadette, heard people there say that her husband was “a dead man .. walking around with a bull’s-eye on his head.”
When he arrived at Dover Air Force Base, with his wife there to meet him, the Army told Spc. Darby it wasn’t safe for him to go back to Cumberland, adding: “You can probably never go home.”
Darby took great personal risk to turn in a friend — in order to reveal criminal activity inside the U.S. military. His revelations led to the Taguba report, prosecutions and courts martial, and stained the presidency of George W. Bush, and the tenure of his Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, probably for life.
But Darby’s method of exposing what he thought was information too important to keep secret — was to turn the information over to people inside the chain of command who could do something about it. He didn’t upload them to the server of a foreign news entity, as Manning allegedly did.
I think that distinction is critically important, as is the fact that much of what Manning released were State Department cables that while interesting reading, revealed nothing criminal, or certainly nothing so earth shaking that it had to — morally and for the sake of history — be released in that way. (The video of U.S. troops apparently firing on civilians in Iraq from an Apache helicopter in 2007 is obviously a different story, in terms of the import of the leaks.)
I think whoever told those New York Times reporters about U.S. secret detentions and black sites did the right thing. Same with the whistleblower who revealed that the Bush administration was spying on its own citizens. Some of what Wikileaks has revealed is important and noteworthy, but Manning is a curious kind of hero, in my opinion. (Some of his advocates are now trying to assert he’s not even an American, also a strange way to defend him…)
Worse, by asserting that he is being mistreated (which has been whipped around the Twitterverse as “tortured” — without evidence, and based on hearsay evidence from an acquaintance whose claims are backed up by a known advocate who writes for the same outfit that’s making the claims, is both troubling, and a pretty serious slander on the U.S. military that serves no purpose other than to communicate loathing for the Obama administration, which at times seems to be the real purpose of the charges.
I’m sure I’ll be summarily trashed for this post, but that’s OK. There are genuine heroes out there, who have taken great risks to expose the crimes of U.S. administrations, to include Daniel Ellsberg, Spc. Darby and others. I don’t know how Bradley Manning is being treated at Quantico. I certainly have not heard sound evidence that he’s being tortured, though if such evidence was to be unearthed, I would be as outraged as Mr. Greenwald, who by the way has done some fine reporting at Salon over the years on a number of issues related to governmental excess.
For now, I can only say that Manning is no hero of mine.