One peculiar outcome of the new clampdown on whistleblowers is the spectacle of Americans cheering on the destruction of their own rights, as in the case of avowed tough guys commenting in blogs that people like Bradley Manning “did the crime and now does the time,” deserve no sympathy and merit the clear torture he is now undergoing. The tough consistently miss the point that while Manning has been accused of leaking classified military and State Department files to WikiLeaks, he has been convicted of nothing. The treatment he is undergoing has become the new norm in the case of high-profile cases purportedly involving national security.
The peerless Glenn Greenwald in this case gets it wrong when he says Manning’s treatment is “possibly” torture. Isolation is torture and has been proven to be so. Hardened prisoners have said they would take almost any other punishment for misbehavior over isolation and its effects on the mind and the spirit. According to Greenwald, Manning has been kept in his cell without any human contact whatsoever for 23 out of 24 hours every day for six months, is prohibited from exercising in his cell, takes his meals alone and is being administered what he is told are anti-depressants by the prison doctor to keep his mind from snapping from the effects of the constant, steady quiet, the artificial light which makes it impossible to distinguish night from day and the aloneness with one’s own thoughts. Hard as it may be to understand without experiencing it, interaction with other humans, even other accused, is a vital part of the touchstones with reality which frame our psyche. In testimony introduced at the trial of another prisoner accused of material assistance to terrorists, Fahad Hashmi,who was held in isolation for two years, doctors concluded that:
“after 60 days’ solitary detention people’s mental state begins to break down and gradually develops into psychosis as the mind disintegrates.”
Prolonged isolation produces fear, anxiety and stress as lack of human contact denies the victim the opportunity to affirm the validity of what they are thinking. Victims hear voices and begin to question who they are. Stuart Grassian MD, wrote in “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement“:
“over 400 published investigations of the effects of social isolation on primates show such deleterious effects as self-mutilation and disturbances in perception and learning. They found that in adult rhesus monkeys even brief periods of social isolation produce compromised cognitive processing.”
Grassian also notes:
“McKinney, Suomi and Harlow (1971) produced symptoms of depression in rhesus monkeys by confining them for 30 days…. isolation-produced fear in dogs has been clearly demonstrated (Thompson & Melzack, 1956).”
All this is taking place before Manning has been convicted of any crime. He has undergone, for six months, the punishment many convicts dread most, before setting foot in a courtroom. Greenwald reports that David House, who has visited Manning several times in Quantico, has described “palpable changes in Manning’s physical appearance and behavior just over the course of the several months … “
The trial balloon for holding accused “enemies of the state” in severe, enforced isolation, which means deliberate exposure to only artificial light around the clock without a peek at grass and sky, even through bars, was Jose Padilla. While his lawyers complained during Padilla’s nearly four years in isolation before his trial that his mind was being destroyed, according to The Christian Science Monitor:
“his windows were covered over. There was a toilet and sink. The steel bunk was missing its mattress. He had no pillow. No sheet. No clock. No calendar. No radio. No television. No telephone calls. No visitors. Even Padilla’s lawyer was prevented from seeing him for nearly two years … . [Padilla’s captors] punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds.”
At his trial four years later Padilla was docile and exhibited sudden facial tics. In his affidavit filed during Padilla’s civilian trial, his attorney Andrew Patel said, “I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla’s temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of ‘a piece of furniture.'” At his trial, Dr. Angela Hegarty said Padilla “lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense” and that “during questioning, he exhibited ‘facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body.'”
Padilla was found guilty and sentenced to 17 more years.
Among the charges against Manning is leaking of the gun video of an Apache helicopter during an attack in Baghdad in 2007, which was widely broadcast in the mainstream media and remembered for the graphic footage of a group of Iraqi men being blown apart and dismembered by the Apache’s 30mm cannon. Less remarked upon, but critical, is the attack recorded soon afterward, upon a man wounded in the attack and other men attempting to evacuate him in a van. Manning called it “the van thing.” Even on military blogs, there is broad agreement that although the first attack, as brutal as it seemed, was technically within the rules of engagement because a rocket launcher was found on the scene, the second attack constituted a clear war crime. Attacks on the wounded and those attempting to evacuate them are known by all soldiers to be illegal. The Marine Corps Study Guide reinforces Article 12 of the Geneva Conventions that:
“wounded or sick, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances. They shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict … Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited; in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated …”
The Marine Corp Guide states:
“Marines do not attack medical personnel, facilities, or equipment. Both friendly and enemy medical personnel are to be encouraged to come to the battlefield in safety to care for the wounded combatants.”
It is in the second attack, upon the wounded man and those attempting to evacuate him, that the Apache gunner is heard champing at the bit and impatiently requesting permission to open fire. It is in this aftermath that Spc. Ethan McCord, now an outspoken opponent of the wars, discovers the children who have been wounded in the van and runs with them to an armored vehicle to get them to help, after another soldier runs away vomiting.
Apparently anything but naive about the carnage which happened in Iraq every day, Manning wrote to Adrian Lamo about the gunship video:
“At first glance it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter … No big deal … about two dozen more where that came from, right? But something struck me as odd with the van thing and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory. So I looked into it.”
The JAG is the judge advocate general, a military prosecutor. Yet, there are no charges pending against the Apache gunner or the ground controller who gave him permission to fire. Manning wrote to Lamo that his biggest worry if found out to be the leaker would be to “get my side of the story out, before everything was twisted around to make me look like Nidal Hassan (the Fort Hood shooter.)”
Manning did, as many point out, sign an agreement to not disclose classified materials. He also, however, swore a higher oath to uphold and defend the US Constitution, and his agreement did not include war crimes.
It is not known whether Manning is allowed reading materials, although the Army says he is allowed a prescribed time for watching television each day. Despite this amelioration, the pattern of total isolation without even these has been set in the cases of Hashmi and Padilla and there is no reason to believe the government intends to decrease, but rather increase, the severity of pre-trial isolation in cases it decides it must win. In the end, relinquishing the right to humane treatment before trial and allowing a new system of mind destruction to become a standard will make it that much easier for the government to prevent anyone from hearing any other side of a story, in any case involving any one of us.