Saturday, March 05, 2011

Abu Ghraib redux at Quantico

The prison treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Pfc. Bradley Manning is an outrage. He is being forced to sleep naked in his cell and to present himself naked at morning check-in at the Quantico brig.

And we thought that the humiliation inflicted on military prisoners ended with Abu Ghraib and the Bush Administration.

Write the White House to demand that our the President (who as Commander-in-Chief is responsible) end the inhumane treatment of Pfc. Manning.

Here is the Manning story as it appeared in today's New York Times.

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Anonymous Chris said...

I heard they also prevent him from posting to Facebook, ordering Domino's to his cell, and he is also not allowed to play Angry Birds on his cell phone.

Seriously, this little traitorous rodent deserves everything he's getting.

“Because of recent circumstances, the underwear was taken away from him as a precaution to ensure that he did not injure himself,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “The brig commander has a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the detainees and to make sure that they are able to stand trial.”

Please, give him back his underwear and a book on how to tie knots.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Chris, thanks for using your name — or at least part of it.

A few thoughts....

First, Manning is a human being. "Rodent" doesn't advance your argument. Name-calling never does. In fact, it is usually evidence of a lack of critical thinking.

Second, in this country, one is innocent until proven guilty. Manning's not "traitorous" until proven to be. Due process and all that....

Third, we have prohibitions against "cruel and unusual punishment." And there can be no (ZERO) punishment whatsoever until there is conviction of a crime.

Fourth, in a democracy (if that is what we have. Situations like this one make me wonder...) we need to know what our government is doing. It is entirely possible that Manning, if "guilty," and WikiLeaks have done far more good than harm in the larger scheme of things.

Finally, would you recommend arresting the editors of all the publications that printed the leaked material? And all the bloggers who helped disseminate it? Are they also "traitorous"?

If so, be reminded that we have freedom of speech in this country — unless there is some secret plan to do away with it. It has happened here before in the name of "national security." Worse, the public has been repeatedly and knowingly lied to prior to every war.

If there were such a press-muzzling plan, would you want to have the plan leaked? Or would you just go along and say that to leak such information would be "traitorous"?

I'd like to hear your "rodent-free" answers to my questions, Chris.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I was a soldier back in the day, and to me there is no one lower than someone who betrays his own government. We likely won't know for years or longer how much damage he did with his 'alleged' acts.

Maybe I'm trying him in the court of public opinion, based on all of the evidence I've read, from many, many sources. He's 'innocent' just the same way OJ was innocent. Hopefully, his trial ends with a different outcome. Feel free to judge me based on my feelings, tell me I'm wrong to do so, but at the end of the day I have nothing to do with how he is prosecuted - I'm just a guy on the street voicing my opinion. If he is found not guilty, I'll be back with an apology.

'Cruel & Unusual' - first of all, he is not subject to the civilian court system. He is under the purview of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is a far different animal - there are all sorts of things permissible under the UCMJ that aren't allowed under the normal court system. When he makes comments to guards that could be construed as threatening, what would you have them do? Can you imagine the uproar if he were to commit suicide? I reject the notion that his treatment is somehow cruel or unusual - he is being fed, housed, and provided better medical care than most US citizens.

What would you have us do with accused criminals? Let them stay at home under house arrest and hope they show up at trial? Provide them all the comforts of home and make sure they aren't uncomfortable or displeased with their confinement? I submit the conditions at most county jails are worse than what Manning has to live with. He doesn't have to worry about getting assaulted or worse by other inmates.

Your argument about needing to know what the government is doing doesn't hold water to me either. You may very well WANT to know everything they are doing, but that is simply unrealistic. Throughout history, every government on Earth has concluded some information is secret and disseminated to those with a 'need to know'. You really want John Q. Blogger to be able to peruse and distribute ANY information the government might have? I want to build an A-Bomb in my garage, should I be able to just call Lawrence Livermore labs and get the recipe? I'm really curious to know what Obama is doing for lunch on Friday, maybe I can get an autograph. Should I be able to pop open his calendar on my compuer? Of course not.

Not to mention the fact that none of this information was PFC Manning's to disclose. He was a PRIVATE - the 3rd rank from the bottom, with no authority over anything.

I'm not willing to go so far to say that those who reprinted this information be punished somehow. I will say my gut reaction to it is disgust and contempt. I think back to WWII and what a different tone we had then - normal citizens tried to HELP their country against their enemies. Those who did what Manning did would probably not lasted long in public.

There is nothing 'good' that comes from this kind of reckless action. If you want to know something that the government is doing, there is already a method to request that - the FOIA.

I'm not so paranoid that I think our government has some secret plan to kill the press, restrict our movements or place us under big-brother surveillance. I think this is an awesome country and looking around the globe can't find anywhere else I'd rather live.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Thanks, Chris, for your thoughtful response. I just got it this morning so I want to think about it for a day or two before responding.

Too often we get into a kind of "fire and reload" response on the inter-net. As a former soldier, you know what I mean. This isn't war. We are trying to understand each other.

Thanks again, Rick

8:13 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...


The problem at the heart of our difference is that I believe the military (any military or fighting unit anywhere) and war (and terrorism and violence) are dehumanizing.

Nationalism and religion play roles too. Our country, for all its virtues, has many vices, as a review of its history reveals. (Check out Howard Zinn's iconoclastic "People's History of the U.S.") Or just talk to a Native-American. Or anyone in this country whose skin pigment is several shades darker than your own.

The military ranks us in a country that proclaims equality. "He was a PRIVATE - the 3rd rank from the bottom, with no authority over anything." Anything? Not even himself. Is that not dehumanizing?

(Check out Thoreau's "On Civil Disobedience" on this subject.)

And now, although Pvt. Manning has constant video surveillance, he is stripped naked "for his own protection from himself."


In Abu Ghraib, that behavior by American military guards was considered unacceptable (even abhorrent) — after it was revealed. More to the point, after it was LEAKED.

Thank you leakers.

The dehumanization leads soldiers to refer to others as "chinks," "gooks" and, well, "rodents" and "vermin." (The Nazis used the latter to refer to Jews).

The goal is to so dehumanize that you will kill these "creatures."

But if they are mere "creatures," so are we.

A dehumanized system also sets up its own dehumanized "justice" system. You can't use "civilian" justice to judge people whom you have given license to kill. Civilian law demands the death penalty for killing fellow human beings. No, for permitted, mandated dehumanized killing, you need dehumanized laws.

Then there is the dehumanization that happens to the combatants themselves, who, when the fighting is over, can't live with themselves and with what they have seen — and done.

Hence PTSD and soaring veteran suicide rates.

I'm not big on quoting the Gospel, Chris, but there was a reason Christ told us to love our enemies. To not do so leads to madness. To see the enemy as anything less than human, less than deserving of our love, is to lose our own humanity.

So we have "rodents" and oxymoronic "accused criminala" (you aren't a criminal simply because someone accuses you.). And so we have the irrational appeals to nationalism and American (or Pakistani or German or Chinese) exceptionalism.

"We're the best nation." "No you aren't!" "Yes we are!!!"

At some point we have to say "Stop!"

I think that's what Manning was trying to do. He was holding the mirror up to us. He was telling us what was being done with our money and in our names.

In their own ways, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Thoreau, Socrates, Jesus, Mandela and countless others held up mirrors and led us to stop.

How can we be fully human until we understand the consequences of our actions? How can we be humans until we escape rank and orders that result in the deaths of fellow human beings?

Again, I'm not asking this only of Americans. I'm asking it of the human family. And I'm not the only one asking, Chris. Manning, in his own way, is too.

Perhaps we should all stand naked with Pvt. Manning, voluntarily. We need to strip ourselves of the mythology that war ends war. That there are "just" wars or wars "of liberation." Is anyone who has participated in war ever liberated from it?

Until we strip ourselves of myth, we conceal ourselves from truth.

Thanks again, Chris, for engaging in this exchange. I hope you will live with and consider these thoughts a day or two before responding, if you so choose.

I look forward to hearing from you. If I don't, I wish you well.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Hi Rick,

I respect your views. I don't agree with them, but I realize I'm not going to convert you to a pro-military zealot (not that I really want to do that of course).

I really don't think the military is dehumanizing, in a general sense. I don't know your background or if you ever served or not, but it's not like 'Full Metal Jacket' where you are being abused and degraded 24/7. Yes, it can be rough during basic training, but that is the way discipline is instilled quickly. Once you are in your regular unit, it's more like a regular job (at least it was for me and the specialty I had). It's definitely not the place for someone who wants to 'blaze his own trail' though. I don't think it's dehumanizing to have to follow orders and respect the rank of your leaders (most of us do that in our day-to-day jobs already).

Abu Ghraib was disgusting. Those soldiers (term used loosely) were completely in the wrong and I don't know anyone who defends them. Just like in the police force, or any other job that people work at, there are always going to be those who abuse power, or act in a way contrary to the directives they swore to uphold. Does this impugn the military or mean that all military guards are brutal sociopaths? Of course not. "But that info was only learned because someone leaked it". You are right - and I don't have a problem with that, necessarily. Someone leaked information about a specific crime that wasn't classified or secret. It was a bunch of criminals going nuts.

Manning though leaked anything and everything he could get his hands on, without regard for whatever damage he was doing to US relations and the programs and policies which help keep us safe. This is the difference between me 'leaking' photos of a co-worker snorting coke at a company party (which could send him to jail) and leaking sensitive company secrets to the competition (which could ruin the whole business).

War is a different story altogether. Yes, it can be quite dehumanizing. I think all but the very naive know that going in. I joined the military to serve my country and to pay for my education later in life. I knew going in that I might someday have to fight - turns out I was right. It was quite terrifying to be in a war situation, nothing fun or enjoyable at all there.

Right or wrong - the objective of military combat is and should be the destruction of the enemy. Wars should be terrible and devastating - maybe we'll be less likely to engage in them if we know going in what will happen. It's a travesty to engage our troops in combat and then tie both hands behind their backs like we do. They are under a microscope 24/7 - make a mistake and the press is already there ready to report. Hesitate too long & you're coming home in a box. We should either utilize our troops to their maximum, or forget about it and stay home (realizing both options can have devastating consequences in different respects).

I think you are also giving Manning far too much credit for his motives. I hardly think he's in the company of Jesus and Socrates. In fact, some reports put his motives as little more than a temper tantrum designed to purposefully embarrass the US.

"Is anyone who has ever participated in war ever liberated from it?" Not the combatants certainly. You cite PTSD and suicide - these are tragedies. But these brave men and women put themselves in harms way despite the risks so that you and I can peacefully discuss and disagree on topics such as this. We fear no reprisals from the government for our positions. The people of Kuwait, France, Norway, Poland, and many other countries have in fact been liberated by war. The costs were terrible, but I don't think there were any other options.

I do share your hope that someday mankind will find a way to peacefully coexist and that wars will end. I admire your position and the fervor with which you defend it. Thanks for the chat -

10:17 PM  

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