Sunday, July 17, 2011

How Fares Teh Hero Cult?

More than a year after Bradley Manning was rounded up in Iraq and held under some truly disgusting conditions at Quantico -- inspiring accusations from the "Progressive" Civil Liberties community that he was being tortured in order to extract information from him about WikiLeaks that could be used against Julian Assange -- I'm seeing somewhat more notice in the "progressive" blogosphere of the fact that prisoners by the tens of thousands are being held under appalling conditions in this country as a matter of course. This notice is particularly evident over at FDL where both Jeff Kaye and Kevin Gozstola have recently highlighted the hunger strike by prisoners at Pelican Bay and other facilities in California over their continuing mistreatment -- which some would call torture -- by their captors.

This notice that "it's more than just Manning" in the "progressive" blogosphere is welcome and long overdue. I've written about the gross mistreatment of prisoners in the United States -- whether or not they have been tried and convicted -- before, and I've pointed out, many times, here and in other fora, that Manning's case is emblematic of widespread mistreatment of captives within the prison/industrial complex that keeps growing in this country, and that people need to recognize that how he was being mistreated was not unusual at all.

It was closer to "typical."

In some of the comments I made on the topic, I mentioned a close relative who as a Marine was held for four years at Miramar in California, under conditions startlingly similar to those of Bradley Manning at Quantico, except that my relative had the shit beat out of him a couple of times by guards, which got him out of isolation for a time while his injuries healed. Other than that, there wasn't much difference in treatment. It was brutal, it was cruel, it involved intense isolation and constant indignity. And it went on for four long years, including the time prior to my relative's court martial and conviction on trumped up drug charges. If the stories I've been told about what "really" happened are true (and I have no way of knowing whether they are or not) then the whole thing was a purely political move by commanding officers to protect themselves from... exposure.

Anybody who has had a close brush with the relatively common practice in American brigs (Naval prisons) knows that what happened to Bradley Manning at Quantico followed a long history of abuse of brig prisoners that is in many ways part and parcel of the Traditions of the Navy and the Marine Corps.

In fact, this abuse has been written about for a long time, and it was dramatized by Kenneth H. Brown and staged by The Living Theatre in 1963 (revived off Broadway in 2007) and widely performed -- in full and in excerpt -- throughout the country during the Sixties and later.

My general point about the Manning Thing was that his treatment was not atypical, it was widely practiced in and out of the military system, and that what was being done to him specifically at Quantico was being done because it could be done. Not, as was being claimed, to "torture information" out of him. No, he was being abused because such abuse was part of the system holding him in custody. And if you read the investigative report (pdf) triggered by Manning's own complaints about his treatment and by the many protests over it, you'll see that for the most part, he was being treated "lawfully" and "according to protocol". There are brig manuals online (additionally) which detail pretty much exactly what was done to Manning at Quantico, and while it is indefensible, it is more or less routine. It isn't right, it isn't justice, but it is... procedure.

The Cult of the Hero requires that Bradley Manning -- or Julian Assange or whomever -- be considered apart from the common lot of accused or prisoners, and that's the primary reason why Manning's treatment was singled out for interest and protest -- and the relatively common similar treatment of other prisoners (even children and those who have not been charged or convicted) was typically either ignored or in some cases ("these are the worst of the worst, you know") justified.

The Hero is Special by definition.

Consequently, when profiles of Manning started appearing -- as on Frontline, and in New York Magazine (which I would remind readers is not the same as the New York Times with which it was widely confused in the many online denunciations of it over NYMag's "hit piece" on Manning) -- that detailed some of the "complicated" emotional and sexual identity issues Manning shared with Adrian Lamo (who eventually turned him in to authorities for unauthorized leakage of classified information and documents) and delved into his private as well as his more public life, his defenders and his cult went into turbo-drive denouncing those who would probe where they ought not to go.

(Did I mention that the relative who was held in brig confinement under conditions arguably worse than those of Manning, certainly physically and mentally worse, ultimately decided to change his gender? Well, who'dathunk? Right? He is now a she. And the Government paid for it. :-P)

Supposedly, none of a Hero's backstory matters in the least. The only thing that matters is that the Hero exposed the obscenities of the Government -- and in Manning's case, the military in which he served. How he got to that point is none of your business!!!!® SHUT UP!!!!™ Hit piece!!! SMEAR!!!!!!

Yes. Well.

Of course all of this presumes that Manning did this or that "exposure" he is accused of. Maybe he did; I don't know. But none of the Heroics he's accused of and worshiped as a Hero for has been adjudicated (fairly or not). Given the appalling lack of security on the classified information he is accused of leaking, it wouldn't be at all surprising if he either didn't do it, or if he did, if he wasn't the only one.

Time will tell. In the meantime, his Heroism depends on hearsay. And a rather touching faith and belief.

When Manning was transferred to Ft. Leavenworth some of the hysterics surrounding his incarceration abated. If now some of the attention that was focused on him and his situation alone has been broadened to include at least some of the tens of thousands of other prisoners held under equally horrific conditions, hurrah.

But I'm not going to hold my breath as long as attention can only be paid to Heroes.

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