Empathy for empire

Molly Crabapple, a political artist whose artwork I frequently admire and appreciate and some of which decorates my walls, recently admonished what she terms the “Western left” for failing to properly and tangibly support the Syrian revolutionaries fighting their government. She coats this condemnation in deep concern for the Syrian people, but the barely latent thesis shines through: Crabapple is arguing for military intervention.

If it wasn’t clear, Crabapple elucidates when responding to questions about her piece from Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola.

Very often on the left there’s this way where we simplify things, where we’re like, ‘America has fucked up in the Middle East, America murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq.’ And then we look at something like Syria where a nonviolent opposition was met with extreme violence and then after trying to arm themselves they were asking for military aid and we’re like “America’s fucked up in the Middle East, America’s murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq. Let’s not even look at these people. Let’s pretend they don’t even exist.” And I think that there’s a legitimate debate about military aid and intervention.

Author and Western leftist David Mizner responded deftly to the original piece with ’For 3rd Anniversary of War in Syria, Molly Crabapple Turns Into a Liberal Hawk.’ He explains how Crabapple is refuting claims her subjects aren’t making to highlight her own empathy — those she condemns are not cheering the status quo, they are simply trying to prevent further horror.

“For the last decade, the left has struggled against the murderous idiocies of the War on Terror. Guantanamo. Iraq. Weddings drone-bombed in the name of ‘freedom’. When Syrian activists and the Free Syrian Army began asking for weapons and no-fly zones in what actually was a fight for freedom, the Western left mostly looked away,” Crabapple laments.

Some additional context is needed. While the Western left was allegedly looking away, Western governments were getting involved in the Syrian conflict, if quietly.

From August 2013:

So far the UK has sent around £8m of “non-lethal” aid, according to official papers seen by The Independent, comprising five 4×4 vehicles with ballistic protection; 20 sets of body armour; four trucks (three 25 tonne, one 20 tonne); six 4×4 SUVs; five non-armoured pick-ups; one recovery vehicle; four fork-lifts; three advanced “resilience kits” for region hubs, designed to rescue people in emergencies; 130 solar powered batteries; around 400 radios; water purification and rubbish collection kits; laptops; VSATs (small satellite systems for data communications) and printers. In addition, funds have been allocated for civic society projects such as inter-community dialogue and gathering evidence of human rights abuses. The last ‘gift’ to the opposition, announced by William Hague last week, is that £555,000 worth of counter-chemical warfare equipment is on standby.

Also from August 2013:

Rebel groups in Syria’s north say they have received their largest shipment of weapons yet…

From September 2013:

 The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria…

From January 2014:

Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according U.S. and European security officials.

Syrian rebels have been using Western weapons for months, at the very least.

As for a no-fly zone, Mizner quotes members of the Western left, Vijay Prashad and Gary Younge, who have not “looked away” but who have instead opposed further war.

But perhaps it is Crabapple who has “looked away” from the full effects of Western imperialism. She writes, “The left did not see Syria. We saw Afghanistan and Iraq. The US is broke and disillusioned from two wars based on lies. It understandably doesn’t want to enter a third.”

A third? If only. If we’re distinguishing American wars by national borders, the number is sadly higher. As Crabapple herself notes, we’ve been regularly drone striking several countries in the Middle East, including Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, for years.

The last MENA country to spark this intervention debate on a national scale, and the last country on which the West imposed a no-fly zone, was Libya. Here’s an update on how that country is doing:

The partitioning of Libya is no longer the concern of pessimists alone but a tangible reality. Islamists are imposing their rule by force and the government and parliament are paralyzed. Some talk blatantly about their intention to strip the non-Arab inhabitants of the south of the country of their citizenship. Add to this mess direct Western intervention in Libya’s internal affairs and one can only conclude the partitioning of the country is on the horizon.

To oppose Western intervention in Syria is not a symptom of ‘war fatigue’ — it is to simply be aware of what Western intervention leads to.

I propose listening to members of the Western left who tend to focus specifically on Syria. Here’s Patrick Higgins:

…I have little patience with anybody speaking to me nowadays in the name of the “will of the Syrian people.” How can anybody dare make such a claim? Read a little. Be at least a little honest. How could Syrian opinion about what constitutes the gravest threat and the best way forward not depend at this point on which part of the country he or she resides in? It’s a civil fucking war, with every bit of pain and confusion that entails. My antiwar activity is predicated first and foremost on the idea of self-determination for all peoples. Syrians deserve to have that. Devastatingly, the entire world is working to keep them from achieving it….[The United States] doesn’t wish for the stability of any regime that is not in its financial thrall. And it wishes to weaken Hezbollah and Iran, as everybody knows. Some continue to push the narrative that the United States is baffled over events in Syria without a sound, clear policy. This is nonsense. It has been two and a half years. Do people honestly want to make the claim that it hasn’t come up with anything over all that time? America and the Zionists have been sitting back and enjoying the show, while getting involved directly as little possible.

(Higgins also has a valuable explanation of imperialism in this piece.)

Here’s the writer who goes by ‘Nader’:

I firmly believe that intervention by reactionary forces on the side of the opposition (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) has done great harm to Syria and the Syrian uprising in general, but nevertheless, to state that the onus is entirely on them to end this war is to imply that the regime is somewhat innocent, which I believe is ludicrous.

We should also note that proponents of intervention in Libya and Syria (as with Iraq and Afghanistan) happen to line up with the interests of Western governments, who profit from these wars and expand their hegemony. But in conflicts where the U.S. is guiltier, or where the U.S. has interests at stake, interventionists like Crabapple are rather quiet. Amy Austin Holmes reminds us of ‘The Military Intervention that the World Forgot,’ in Bahrain, where U.S. ally Saudi Arabia demolished protesters — which the U.S. didn’t intervene to stop, for what should be obvious reasons.

I deeply empathize with those killed by and who fight against brutally repressive governments around the world. I am crushed by their deaths, I mourn for their martyrs, I identify with their struggles. It is for that very reason that I think the United States and the rest of the west should not intervene in Syria. There are other ways to help: we can accept refugees in our country, we can stop financing dictators throughout the Middle East, we can stop fighting proxy wars, we can end our long and covert war on Syria-tied Iran, and we can stop selling billions of dollars worth of weapons around the world. But we can’t bomb Syria and say it’s in the name of empathy.


On the Import of Debra Van Poolen’s Artistic Witness

Those of us who covered Chelsea Manning’s court martial at Ft. Meade relied on the drawings of artists in attendance to illustrate our coverage of witnesses testifying, dramatic proceedings, and vital courtroom moments. Debra van Poolen, one such artist, wrote about her experience here. I’ve thanked Debra in a piece explaining the value of her and others’ images, first published here at WARP Place. Relatedly, see artist Clark Stoeckley’s book-length graphic account of the trial here.


We are, increasingly, a visual people, overloaded with imagery at every turn. Thus the army’s (and administration’s) strategy to turn what should have been a trial available to the public for witness, conversation, and debate into a covert one made sense. No cameras, no cell phones, no computers in the courtroom. Metal detectors scanned our every inch for a hidden lens or wire. Uniformed muscles with weapons lined the walls, escorting us out to stretch our limbs and rest our eyes, watching, retrieving us. In the media room, a relaxed appearance betrayed an even more sinister crackdown on any attempt to publicize the show trial of U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning.

By and large, the mainstream media ignored the trial. We few reporters followed proceedings on a delayed video feed, that—just next door to the NSA, capable of spying on Americans’ every communication—was conveniently, annoyingly liable to cut out at any minute, for several at a time. So adverse was the Army to the public witnessing the immense, inexorable courage of a 5’2” soldier who stood head and shoulders above her fear-stricken fellow servicemen that when a few seconds of video did seep onto the world wide web, Ft. Meade soldiers with handguns were assigned to patrol the media room, their hot breath on our necks as we tried to transcribe extensive motions in real time.

We reporters relayed the legal updates and major happenings, but words cannot adequately convey the rigidity of the proceedings, Manning’s isolation and power as she testified, or the military’s tangible unease about whom she might inspire next. When deprived of images, we hunger for them. We needed visual confirmation that this unprecedented trial, these obscene charges, that looming prison hell, were real and not just another police-state nightmare.

Debra Van Poolen’s courtroom drawings shed some light on the dark site, bringing us closer to the tension and texture of that damning room. We can prop up her portrayal of Manning at the microphone as we read the statement itself, wherein Manning explained to the judge who would soon condemn her to decades in a cage just why she was so disturbed by that video in Iraq, and why she felt such profound empathy for the unarmed civilians seemingly murdered for sport while trying to protect their own.

Debra Van Poolen put her life on hold to visually convey this trial to us, spending each day sketching out new witnesses, legal teams, family members, and the Truth brigade that quietly supported Manning from the gallery—a little echo of and tribute to Pfc. Manning for putting her freedom at risk to convey to us the Army’s darkest secrets. Thank you, Debra, for helping us bear witness. We are in your debt.


Alex Gibney’s response to my ‘We Steal Secrets’ review

On May 24, 2013, I reviewed Alex Gibney’s WikiLeaks/Bradley Manning film ‘We Steal Secrets,’ focusing on its portrayal of Pfc. Bradley Manning. Read that review here. Alex Gibney wrote me a letter in response, reprinted in full below:

Alex Gibney (photo by David Shankbone -- click for Flickr source)

Alex Gibney (photo by David Shankbone — click for Flickr source)

Dear Nathan:

I read your recent review of “We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks.”

I have great respect for the work that you have done and continue to do on behalf of Bradley Manning.  With that in mind, let me express my disagreement with a number of your assertions about my film.  I do not expect you to share my views, but I would hope that you hear them.

You criticize the filmmaking team for failing to wait for Bradley Manning’s spoken statement to the court.  The film was completely finished, including final digital and film elements, in February. However, in light of some revelations in the Manning statement, we were able to make some small changes in the audio track – at great expense and technical difficulty – without changing picture.  We had been working on the film for more than two years and made a decision to bring it to a conclusion.  We did so, not because the story was finished (we fully expect you and others to continue to follow and tell the story) but because we felt that – with Assange and Manning both in very different kinds of custody – we could conclude a chapter.

Our film focuses on events in 2010 and 2011.  In that context, Bradley Manning’s on-line chats are more relevant than his very moving speech to the court.  I also felt that showing the on-line chats as printed text was important to the character of this story. Those chats reveal Manning’s views in the moment rather than as a carefully considered speech looking back on events with the benefit of hindsight.  Yet, I would also note – as Glenn Greenwald has done – that Manning’s speech is remarkably consistent with the Lamo chats, both for his personal concerns and for his political convictions.

To that point, Nathan, I must take issue with your characterization of the film.  You imply that, with one exception, the film does not include any mention of Manning’s political convictions. That just isn’t true.  There is a great deal about Manning’s motivations as a whistleblower in the film, not only from his chats but also from materials he appended to the original leak of the war logs.

Here are two short examples.  1) “This is possibly one of the most significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.”  2) “I want people to see the truth…regardless of who they are.  Because without that information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

You link to the “annotated transcript” released by WikiLeaks.  But you do not note that this so-called “transcript” contains a multitude of errors.  In addition to including words that aren’t in the film, the “transcript” actually omits every single one of Manning’s words as they appeared on-screen.  One is left to conclude that this “transcript” has either been maliciously edited to make it look like we omitted Manning, or so sloppily done that it just left his words out. That, in itself, is a kind of cruel poetry: WikiLeaks has written Bradley Manning out of the story.

I also disagree with the way that your review omitted the full context of Manning’s speech to the court.  In a forthright way, he does discuss his alienation from those around him. He uses the following phrases: “I lacked close personal ties…” ;“concerns of social labeling”; his roomate’s “discomfort with my sexual orientation”; “immense pressures and anxiety built up throughout the deployment.”  And this key sentence: “It seems that as I tried harder to fit in at work, the more I seemed to alienate my peers and lose the respect, trust, and support I needed.” Does that sound like someone who was carefree?  You imply that Manning was not “alienated” prior to his leaks, only after.  Manning’s own speech to the court belies that view.

I disagree with your contention (raised initially by one of Assange’s legal team) that the film tries to “pathologize Manning’s leaks.” The film does not embrace the army’s view that Manning leaked because of some character flaw; it clearly shows his political motivations.  But neither does the film ignore Manning’s emotional distress.  Why should we ignore issues that Manning himself went to such great lengths to express?

The film does not make any general statement about “the way that whistleblowers behave.”  But it does suggest – via Manning’s own words – that he was alienated from those around him.  Why should that be controversial?  If Manning was perfectly in tune with the culture around him, he never would have leaked the materials.  After all, he broke a military oath when he did what he did. Indeed, he has pleaded guilty to breaking that oath and is willing to be held to account for violating military law.

I accept that, for Manning, questioning his own gender was a serious matter.  I accept that his difficulty with being gay in the military during a time of “don’t ask don’t tell” was of great personal concern.  I don’t see any value in censoring that part of Manning’s life just because for some (but not for me) those deep personal concerns may interfere with a more air-brushed narrative about his role as a political actor.

In your review, you suggest that Manning’s supervisor, Jihrleah Showman, should not have been included in the film because she is a witness for the prosecution in Manning’s military trial.  Sorry, but I’m not going to apologize for including people who were intimately involved in the story.   Further, for a film that attempts to do more than preach to the choir, how would the film be received by those who cannot decide what to think of Manning if I did not include any critical voices?  I think that Bradley Manning would agree that the truth – no matter how inconvenient – is the most important thing.  That truth cannot be glimpsed if we avert our eyes from those with whom we might disagree.

I don’t have any issue with the fact that Manning is gay.  I don’t have any issue with the fact that he wanted to become a woman.  Why should anyone?  However, at a time when Manning is being scapegoated by the military, I do think it’s important to note that the military bears some responsibility for the leak, both for the sloppy way classified material is managed and for the failure, by the chain of command, to take note of Manning’s emotional outbursts.   My political science professor advised me to “embrace the contradictions of everyday life.”  So, in the case of Manning, one can applaud the value of the leaks and still find fault with the military for ignoring the system and individuals that permitted them.  Now that Manning is about to go on trial for “aiding the enemy” should we not hold the military to account for some of what he did?  Or would you prefer that Manning be seen in isolation – and therefore greater legal jeopardy – from the system of which he was a part?

Your review also leaves out an important mystery at the heart of the story: why – if the WikiLeaks electronic dropbox was such a perfect mechanism for anonymous leaking – did Bradley Manning reach out to Adrian Lamo?   It seems clear that Manning needed someone to talk to.  And he needed to talk, not only about the leaks but about his personal pain and, yes, alienation, as a gay man wanting to be a woman in a time of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

This is a vital issue as we confront how leaks may happen in the future.  One flaw of the WikiLeaks model (important in other ways) may be that it does not allow for needed personal communication between a source and a journalist/publisher. I know from personal experience that whistleblowers sometimes need someone to talk to. (Why should that be controversial or a sign of weakness instead of a show of humanity?)  We now know from Manning that he felt let down by the on-line character of “Nathaniel Frank” (the person at WikiLeaks that Manning believed to be Julian Assange) because the conversations between them “were more valued by myself [Manning] than Nathaniel.”  When “Nathaniel” was no longer available to talk to (possibly because WikiLeaks now had the State Department cables in its possession) Manning turned to Lamo, who then turned him in.

The larger point that the film is making is that Manning is a hero precisely because he is not an abstract symbol. He is a unique, flawed and ultimately inspiring individual who can be celebrated for who he is, not altered and re-imagined in order to score easy political points or to soothe the discomfort that some seem to feel toward Manning’s emotional turmoil.

Going forward, it will be important that whistleblowers do not have to believe that they must be extraordinary or perfect heroes.  They can be what the social psychologist Phil Zimbardo calls “everyday heroes.”  They can and should be anybody.

Let us reckon with Bradley Manning as an individual and all that he did.

And let us all support him – every bit of him – as he faces a furious government determined to convict him of a capital offense for trying to make the world a better place.

Alex Gibney

Attached, please find a relevant excerpt from Bradley Manning’s statement to the court:

As the communications transferred from IRC to the Jabber client, I gave ‘office’ and later ‘pressassociation’ the name of Nathaniel Frank in my address book, after the author of a book I read in 2009.

After a period of time, I developed what I felt was a friendly relationship with Nathaniel. Our mutual interest in information technology and politics made our conversations enjoyable. We engaged in conversation often. Sometimes as long as an hour or more. I often looked forward to my conversations with Nathaniel after work.

The anonymity that was provided by TOR and the Jabber client and the WLO’s policy allowed me to feel I could just be myself, free of the concerns of social labeling and perceptions that are often placed upon me in real life. In real life, I lacked a closed friendship with the people I worked with in my section, the S2 section.

In my section, the S2 section and supported battalions and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team as a whole. For instance, I lacked close ties with my roommate to his discomfort regarding my perceived sexual orientation. Over the next few months, I stayed in frequent contact with Nathaniel. We conversed on nearly a daily basis and I felt that we were developing a friendship.

Conversations covered many topics and I enjoyed the ability to talk about pretty much anything, and not just the publications that the WLO was working on. In retrospect I realize that that these dynamics were artificial and were valued more by myself than Nathaniel. For me these conversations represented an opportunity to escape from the immense pressures and anxiety that I experienced and built up through out the deployment. It seems that as I tried harder to fit in at work, the more I seemed to alienate my peers and lose the respect, trust, and support I needed.


What ‘We Steal Secrets’ leaves out

This review was first posted here on May 24, 2013

Alex Gibney's 'We Steal Secrets' film poster

Alex Gibney’s ‘We Steal Secrets’ film poster

Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets” chronicles WikiLeaks’ front-page, world-shocking 2010 leaks from inception to publication to aftermath, framing WikiLeaks’ work as a meteoric rise giving way to a self-incurred implosion.

While I find fault with this view, and even its premise that WikiLeaks has failed and died (the site continues to publish Stratfor emails and Kissinger files, it just won an important Icelandic victory to resume accepting donations through Visa interlocutors, and the Freedom of the Press foundation continues to funnel anonymous contributions its way), I’d rather let others dissect its portrayal of Assange and WikiLeaks and instead focus on how it characterizes Bradley Manning. (Read WikiLeaks’ annotated copy of the film’s script here.)

Earlier this year, we took issue with some of director Alex Gibney’s comments associating whistleblowing with alienation, pathologizing Manning’s leaks and undermining his political values. Producer Sam Black emailed to assure us that, in fact, Bradley Manning is “a hero in the film. He is the moral and emotional center of a complex story about what should and should not be secret.”

Though the movie does laudably transition away from its opening focus on Julian Assange by reminding viewers that Manning is the courageous whistleblower who deserves at least as much public attention, Manning’s story only makes it into about a quarter of the two-hour film, which quotes journalists, former WikiLeaks members, high-ranking government officials, and fellow soldiers.

The time that is spent on Manning leaves much to be desired, and what it leaves out is as much to blame as what it includes. Ultimately, the resulting portrait of Bradley Manning is one of pity more than empathy, one that makes us feel bad for Manning rather than take a serious interest in his beliefs and his plight.

Near the end of the film, journalist James Ball says, “Whistleblowing is an isolating act,” because it forces one to make public things that your peers and friends want to keep secret. But the film’s portrayal reverses that succession, seeming to imply that whistleblowing follows from alienation, not the other way around.

The filmmakers could have avoided this pat and familiar narrative with mere patience: a few short months after production was finished, PFC Bradley Manning provided the most salient, film-ready testimony a director could want – his 10,000-word statement explaining his Army work and decision to release documents to WikiLeaks.

In that statement, Manning passionately articulates his reasoning:

I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The [war logs] documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.

He shines light on his mindset at the time and his political convictions:

I felt this sense of relief by [WikiLeaks] having [the information]. I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and what I had read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan everyday.

He vividly conveys his revulsion:

The most alarming aspect of the video to me…was the seemly delightful bloodlust the Aerial Weapons Team seemed to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life, and referred to them as quote-unquote “dead bastards,” and congratulated each other on their ability to kill in large numbers….For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.

Gibney couldn’t have necessarily known that such a statement was coming. But he would’ve been given this windfall of valuable audio had he not worked to release the film so early. The film is slated to premiere today. Bradley Manning’s trial will begin on June 3, in just over a week. If this were a civilian case, would the release of a major film about its defendant just days before his trial began appear unreasonable? Is Gibney trying too hard to get the story out there just in time for Manning to make the news again?

With the leaked audio published by the Freedom of the Press foundation, Gibney could have used those words above to take a holistic view of Manning while giving real credence to his political motivations. Instead, he relied on fellow soldiers’ memories and the infamous chat logs with Adrian Lamo.

Gibney did make some good use of those chat logs, highlighting a major turning point for Manning in the Army that many forget or minimize: his refusal to be complicit in the detention of innocuous Iraqi dissidents that he knew would be tortured and possibly killed. But beyond this incident, Gibney left us wanting for Manning’s observations and motivations. Why not include his comments on the first world exploiting the third, on almost criminal backroom deals?

The film simply focuses too much on Manning’s personality, and since it relies heavily on Adrian Lamo’s reflections and Manning’s fellow soldiers’ recollections, the remaining portrait is that of a gender-confused weirdo prone to outbursts. It affords extensive time to Jihrleah Showman, a government witness in Bradley’s Article 32 hearing in December 2011, to recount Manning’s emotional flare-ups, and at one point during her interview, Gibney leaves an unflattering photo of Manning up for 10 seconds. Is this really getting to the heart of what Manning’s case and struggle are about?

Gibney isn’t necessarily malicious: he doesn’t really blame Manning for his behavior, implying rather that he probably shouldn’t have been deployed to Iraq in the first place. The view is not one of scorn, but one of pity. In so doing, Gibney subtly removes Manning’s agency, characterizing him more as honorable victim than brave whistleblower.

In one portion, Gibney wonders why Manning’s chain of command wasn’t reprimanded further for allowing him to release these classified documents so easily. Why not take them to equal task for telling him to shut up when he brought Iraqi corruption to their attention? Why not take the government to further task for failing to prosecute the criminals that Manning exposed? Gibney only hints at these questions where a deeper exploration is desperately needed.

The problem isn’t that ‘We Steal Secrets’ fails to cheerlead for Bradley Manning’s every move. It’s that it conflates nuance with the government’s emphasis on personal issues over political convictions.

Sitting behind Bradley in the courtroom for a year and a half, it’s obvious that he’s not interested in our pity, but certainly needs our support.

[Update: Alex Gibney responds to my review here.]


The United States cannot win its war on Bradley Manning

By Russell Fuller

The United States cannot win its war on Bradley Manning. Though it sent a somewhat fragile young man off to war in Iraq, it produced instead a committed humanitarian; though it has caged him without trial for three years, one of them in torturous solitary confinement, it produced instead a fine, free spirit; though it brings its full weight to bear on a man who stands but five-foot two and tips the scales at one hundred and five pounds, it simply steeled his spine; though it restricts public access to pre-trial hearings and, in contradistinction to the First Amendment, threatens the meager group of gathered journalists and witnesses by stating today that access is not a right but a privilege, it produces instead a hunger for truth.

This last suppression of our First Amendment rights was the government’s response to the leak of Manning’s clean, clear voice as he read his statement of actions and intentions, his hopes that the documents he released would stir debate about our government’s actions on behalf of we the people. The Commander in Chief for whom I voted does not want citizens to hear this solitary voice for truth and real justice because regardless of the punishment the court eventually imposes on Manning (and anything other than release for time served would be an outrage), the United States fears Bradley Manning.

The Real leak, the Big secret that’s been exposed and cannot be redacted, is that Goliath fears this David. And because that’s been revealed at Fort Meade to the witnesses gathered there and the rest of us who are paying attention, the United States has already lost this war too.


Bradley Manning’s torture hearing

Manning on the stand. Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley.

Manning on the stand. Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley.

Update: I’ve posted a lengthier summary of this hearing and Manning’s testimony here.

For the last three weeks in Ft. Meade, MD, Bradley Manning has had a pretrial motion hearing to seek accountability for the abusive treatment he endured at the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia, from July 29, 2010, to April 20, 2011. Manning was on Prevention of Injury watch (POI) or Suicide Watch his entire time in the brig, isolated in a 6×8 ft cell for 23 hours a day. For the first six months, he got only 20 minutes of sunshine a day. For the last month and a half, he had to surrender his underwear at night. For his entire time there, he was monitored around the clock, he had to ask for toilet paper and soap, and he had to wear metal shackles any time he left his cell. There weren’t detainees next to his cell, and when he left his cell the brig went in lockdown, so he was effectively barred from speaking to other inmates. And the military used his poor communication to justify his treatment.

About a dozen Quantico officials testified for several hours each to explain that Manning’s conditions were in his own interest: most said they thought he was going to kill himself because he made two nooses in prison in Kuwait — when he was left in a cage and no explained what was happening to him, he broke down. Yet Manning hasn’t hurt himself once at Ft. Leavenworth. Others said that because of the national security implications of Manning’s charges, and the fact that other detainees were “very patriotic,” that Manning was in danger of being attacked — they couldn’t explain, however, why he wasn’t put in protective custody (which has many fewer restrictions), or why he hasn’t been attacked while in medium security for a year and a half in Ft. Leavenworth.

This is painfully counterproductive. As professor Craig Haney — who defense lawyer David Coombs cited in court — told Congress:

Prisoners in long-term solitary confinement suffer psychological breakdowns from the lack of human contact that can lead to psychosis, mutilations, and suicide…

The military wouldn’t concede that Manning was held in solitary confinement. But in the portion Coombs quoted, Haney explains how prison officials use different terms to conceal these conditions:

I should acknowledge that the term “solitary confinement” is a term of art in corrections. Solitary or isolated confinement goes by a variety of names in U.S. prisons—Security Housing, Administrative Segregation, Close Management, High Security, Closed Cell Restriction, and so on. But the units all have in common the fact that the prisoners who are housed inside them are confined on average 23 hours a day in typically windowless or nearly windowless cells that commonly range in dimension from 60 to 80 square feet. The ones on the smaller side of this range are roughly the size of a king-sized bed, one that contains a bunk, a toilet and sink, and all of the prisoner’s worldly possessions. Thus, prisoners in solitary confinement sleep, eat, and defecate in their cells, in spaces that are no more than a few feet apart from one another…

Manning didn’t even get these “worldly possessions.” No matter what the military wants to call it, Manning was in solitary confinement.

The defense is moving to dismiss all charges based on this abusive treatment, based on the Article 13 prohibition against pretrial punishment. As an alternative, if the judge won’t through out the case, the defense requests at least 10-for-1 sentencing credit for the time Manning was in these conditions. Judge Lind is reviewing testimony and will probably rule in a few weeks. We return to court January 8-11, 2013.

There’s much more to unpack in each report, and I’d like to expound on how the chain of command ensured Manning never got out of solitary, but here for now are my summaries from the courtroom:

Day 1.
Day 2.
Day 3.
Day 4.
Day 5.
Day 6.
Day 7 & 8.
Day 9.
Day 10.
Day 11.


2012 albums

220px-Hot_Chip_-_In_Our_Heads_album_coverSome of my favorite albums from this year

Playlist: 2 songs from each. Links below go to full albums.

Hot Chip //  In Our Heads

Kendrick Lamar // Good Kid M.A.A.D. City

Beach House // Bloom

Pet Shop Boys // Elysium

Grizzly Bear // Shields

The Shins // Port of Morrow

bloom-bigFrank Ocean // channel ORANGE

David Byrne & St. Vincent // Love this Giant

The Magnetic Fields // Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Grimes // Visions


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