Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What to do about Bradley Manning....

As has been clear from what I've written about it in the past, I'm not much of a Bradley Manning devotee.

As abusive as his situation is, I don't find it to be particularly unique. I have a close relative who spent four years in solitary confinement in Marine Corps brigs (including his pre-court-martial confinement), and the only times he was out of solitary were when he was hospitalized recovering from the injuries he sustained when the guards beat the living shit out of him. Many other military detainees, at home and abroad, can easily verify the commonality of gross human rights violations in military custody up to and including severe torture. At least from reports, Manning is not being subjected to the worst he could be under the military detention scheme now and for many years in place.

Meanwhile, there are tens of thousands of domestic prisoners, by far the majority of them in civilian custody, who are subjected to far worse treatment on an ongoing basis than anything that has been reportedly done to Bradley Manning in Marine Corps custody. And many of them -- hundreds at least, and perhaps thousands -- are in pre-trial custody and have been convicted of nothing on any given day. Many of those are children.

Therefore I am not about to single out Bradley Manning for special attention. His situation is deplorable. Yet so is the detention situation for tens of thousands, perhaps over a hundred thousand Americans in custody among the millions of incarcerated Americans.

Solitary Watch has established itself as the go-to resource for information and heartbreaking stories of what goes on in the dark recesses of our prison-industrial complex -- and what is being done about it.

The other day, Solitary Watch linked to a guest column in the New Jersey Star Ledger by George Hunsinger, a founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. In it, he recognizes the plight of Bradley Manning as emblematic of the plight of so many Americans, many of them awaiting trial just as Manning is but none of them "deserving" the treatment they are experiencing. For there is no justification for tolerating torture.

I will excerpt the excerpt that appears in Solitary Watch:

The conditions under which Manning is being held are deplorable. No individual, whatever crime he may have committed, should be held in prolonged isolation or be routinely shamed through the use of unnecessary forced nakedness. And that’s the key point — no prisoners should suffer cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment — no matter who they are or what crime they may have committed.

I’m not qualified to speak for Bradley Manning. What I do know, however, is that there are thousands of prisoners throughout the country who face conditions that are similar to, or worse than, those Manning may be enduring. Unfortunately, however, those poor souls are almost completely ignored.

Many prisons contain units in which prisoners are held in isolation for prolonged periods of time (months or even years). The lack of human interaction is profoundly damaging to many of these prisoners — some suffer sufficiently to cause actual physical changes in the makeup of their brains.

Long-term solitary confinement is torture. It has been known to cause prisoners to go insane. And it is unnecessary. In many cases, prisoners are held in solitary confinement to punish them for minor infractions, because of the severe overcrowding of our prisons or other administrative reasons, or because they are mentally ill.

We need to think about what sort of people we want to be. Do we want to be a people who ignore torture that occurs here? Do we want to sit comfortably at home, knowing that somewhere not far away someone is being broken, his mind shattered, by a severe loneliness that has lasted for years?

It is one thing to punish a criminal. It is another to abuse him or her — to strip away his very humanity by denying him contact with all other humans. Solitary confinement can cause permanent damage. And let us remember that under the law, Manning, an American citizen, is still innocent until proved guilty.

It is our urgent responsibility to create a prison system where there is no place for such enforced suffering and where the rights of all citizens are upheld.

And that really is the point. It needs to be made over and over and over again. I'm glad to see that some of those who have been keening and rending their garments over the treatment of Bradley Manning have begun to recognize that what has been happening to him is symptomatic of widespread abuses of authority endemic to our prison system, and that the military is by no means an exception.

When the advocates for Bradley Manning educate themselves to the real horrors that are so deeply ingrained in our civilian and military prison system and clearly understand that as bad as things are for Bradley Manning, they are not unique but are pervasive, endemic, and brightline violations of human rights and dignity, affecting at a minimum tens of thousands and quite likely hundreds of thousands of people including children held in our extraordinarily bloated prison system, then maybe they'll be able to actively participate in changing this disgusting and inhumane system instead of just fretting themselves into paralysis over Bradley Manning.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” -- Matthew 25:40

Here's a column by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella of Solitary Watch that appeared on Al Jazeera's website. It explains most of what Americans need to know about the topic.

Cruel and usual: US solitary confinement

As incarceration rates explode in the US, thousands are placed in solitary confinement, often without cause.

Give it a read. Then go forth armed and educated.

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