Just What Are The Marines Hiding?

Ever since May, Private First Class Bradley Manning has been held in custody at the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia. Manning, of course, is the one accused of leaking the “Collateral Murder” video, as well as the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs to Wikileaks, and the State Department cables. So far, however, Manning hasn’t been given his trial, which in itself is understandable; many criminal cases take several months, or even years in some instances, from the time of arrest to the first day of the trial. However, there are increasing signs that this is no ordinary pretrial detainment, even for a member of the military going through the military’s justice system.

Though the Collateral Murder video, and many pieces of the other “Wikileaked” documents allegedly provided by Manning serve a public good by being released, the act of releasing them is still a crime under both the civilian and military criminal codes because of the fact that they are classified documents. I fully understand and support this reasoning behind the charges for the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs; releasing that much sensitive military information is literally and figuratively playing with fire. However, the State Department cables, while embarrassing for the U.S. government, should not be equated with them; the majority of those were very lightly classified at best. Bradley Manning’s detention is justified for leaking the documents on Afghanistan and Iraq, but several aspects of his detention are raising eyebrows, including several at the United Nations.

Is Manning Being Tortured?
That is the main question facing the Marines at Quantico, and one that needs answering definitively, not just a stock PR statement like what the U.S. military has been parroting every time the mainstream media asks. Note to all the public relations flunkies out there: nobody believes it. Last week, Manning’s lawyer announced that he will formally accuse the Marines of mistreating Manning.

From descriptions in that article and other reports, it certainly sounds like Manning is being mistreated. Why would someone who appears to be a model detainee by all measures need to be in what the military calls “maximum custody”, along with “‘prevention of injury’ watch”? Never mind being placed on suicide watch for a couple days last week for no reason other than the Brig commander feeling like it. Why does someone who hasn’t even been convicted of anything yet, much less proven himself a danger to others, need to be locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours each day, without even sheets or a pillow?

Most importantly, how is it that Manning, in the eyes of officials quoted by the Quantico spokesman, “could pose risk to life, property or national security”, such that he needs to be locked up as tightly as possible. Yes, he did pose a national security risk by leaking the documents, but how the hell would he even be able to do that at Quantico, much less in the brig? Escape is hardly an option either; even if he wanted to, the Quantico brig is in the middle of a large active Marine Corps base, and even if he managed to sneak out of the regular birg, the military could effectively lock him down quite quickly. After all, a military base prison isn’t exactly like the federal penitentiary by the side of a highway.

All of this has drawn high-profile attention to Manning’s case; the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Amnesty International, and others are all calling for the treatment to be investigated. In fact, an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law notes that

“International treaty bodies and human rights experts, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, have concluded that solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment”

This finding is supposedly due to the effects solitary confinement can have on one’s psyche. In fact, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald points out that U.S. courts have been thinking of solitary confinement as a form of torture for more than a century. Why is it still legal? Greenwald points to two Supreme Court decisions stating that solitary confinement is tantamount to torture. Therefore, shouldn’t it ultimately fall under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments? I’d like to remind you that we’re still in the pretrial phase of Manning’s case; solitary confinement seems excessive, doesn’t it?

Further, while Manning is permitted to have visitors that have been approved, it has become clear that the military will do everything in its power to deprive him of even that. On Sunday, a prominent blogger, Jane Hamsher, and David House, a friend of Manning’s, attempted to visit him; they were detained for two hours, until visitation hours were over. Never mind that the two are on the approved visitors list and had, in fact, made the trip several times before. Nobody has said it outright yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the events on Sunday are related to the recent statements by Manning’s lawyer, Amnesty International, and the various other groups increasingly questioning Manning’s detention.

The fact that two approved visitors were denied access to Manning really makes me wonder what exactly the Marines are hiding at Quantico. House noted back in December that Manning’s condition was declining, and the fact that they weren’t permitted to see him almost indicates that the Marines are trying to orchestrate a cover-up. Someone needs to get to the bottom of this issue now. The mere fact that questions of inhumane treatment and torture are flying around is a major embarrassment to the United States, and damages our credibility on the world stage more than the leaked State Department cables have to date.

We cannot preach to other nations about expanding human rights or speak out against inhumane practices elsewhere while we potentially are doing the same sort of thing here at home. We the people must call on President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric Holder, and even Congress to look into the issue. If it turns out that Manning is, in fact, being tortured, those responsible for this reprehensible treatment must face justice.

The Constitution does not apply only when convenient for the government; it applies all the time throughout America, and it extends to the military as well. It is the Supreme Law of the Land, and above all else, it must be upheld. We hear the GOP talk all the time about returning to the Constitution; it’s time for action. If it is determined that Manning is being tortured and nothing is done about it, or if the inquiry doesn’t even begin in the first place, how are we any better than China’s treatment Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo? National security in our post-9/11 world requires some changes, but trampling all over the Rights of the Accused enshrined in our Bill of Rights should not be one of them.