There was at least the ghost of an excuse for bullying foreign combatants but no US need for mistreating one of their own
It is now nearly a decade since 9/11, and in the aftermath of that atrocity the US “lost a little of its greatness”, in the words of one courageous military lawyer, David Frakt. Mr Frakt was protesting to a military commission of “the pointless and sadistic treatment of … a suicidal teenager”, a Guantanamo inmate put in solitary, then systematically sleep-deprived by being shifted from cell to cell every couple of hours. There was at least the ghost of an excuse for bullying and sometimes torturing Arab and Afghan “combatants”. It was done in the name of saving American lives.
There is no such need for the cruel mistreatment now reported as being practised on one of their own, the diminutive US private Bradley Manning. Yet when Hilary Clinton’s spokesman, PJ Crowley, wisely pointed this out – calling the treatment “counterproductive and stupid” – he had to resign. Mr Manning is accused of giving Wikileaks the video of a helicopter killing civilians in Baghdad, the logs documenting disasters of war in Afghanistan, and the 250,000 diplomatic cables which have shed such a dramatic light on world affairs. As a result, Mr Manning is made to stand naked outside his cell this morning, and apparently on all future mornings. This is the culmination of a punitive regime which has gone on for 10 months under which, although untried and unconvicted, he is not allowed to sleep or exercise in his cell during the day, is denied any personal possessions and is barred from conversing with the guards.
Every five minutes he is required to answer that he is fit and, if he turns his face away while asleep, he is immediately forcibly woken up. In an Orwellian trick, this is dubbed “prevention of injury” for his own protection. When Manning finally protested, sarcastically, that he could no doubt injure himself with the boxer shorts which are all that he is left with at night, the boxer shorts, too, were taken away. This regime of near-torture is perhaps designed to break him, in the hope he will incriminate WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange and other associates on some conspiracy charge. Yet is that sensible?
So far, the reaction of the Obama administration to the leaks has been relatively measured. It is tacitly accepted that no lives have been lost, and US diplomacy has not collapsed in the sunlight. Perhaps these frank assessments of corruption even emboldened the uprising against tyranny in places such as Tunisia. It would send a dire message to other tyrannies if the US itself responds to a leak as if it were itself a tyranny. It was, after all, the US top brass who failed to look after their data. We have not seen any heads roll there yet.