Saving Private Manning

Swimming Upstream

I think that most American citizens — despite the current state of affairs in this country and other countries around the world — would like to believe that deep down, the U.S. government operates within a set of values that represents the concepts of justice and equality all of us were taught in school. We would all like to believe that, especially in cases that deal with our own citizens, all of the necessary steps are taken to ensure a fair, honest and decent legal process in the pursuit of justice. While these ideals are admirable in theory, this vision of due process and the trappings of justice that come with it, is not self-enforcing. Occasionally, the people must demand and fight, not only for their own rights, but also for the rights of others. It is not surprising then, that the first steps, and arguably the most valuable tools in that never-ending fight against tyranny and oppression, are the spread of information and the education of the masses. That fight still rages on today, and once again we must come together to protect and promote the values of fair and impartial justice that we hold so dear.

In February of this year Juan Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, released an addendum concerning observations on communications to the General Assembly during the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council. In the addendum, Mendez provided the records of his observations on communications sent to the United States between Dec. 1, 2010 and Nov. 30, 2011, along with the responses he received from said States until Jan. 31, 2012.

In the text of the observations, Mendez describes the communications sent and received by the United States government regarding the treatment of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, as well as a few additional allegations concerning human rights violations committed by the U.S. government.

For those of you who don’t know, Manning is the U.S. Army soldier who is accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, the infamous online government transparency organization headed by Julian Assange. The United States has apparently held Manning in solitary confinement for twenty-three hours a day following his May 2010 arrest in the country of Iraq. He was forced to remain in solitary confinement for the length of roughly 11 months — from the time he was arrested in 2010, until he was transferred from the Marine Base Quantico, where he was being held, to the Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on April 20, 2011.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur stressed, “solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.” While solitary confinement for almost an entire year may sound harsh in its own right, this issue becomes even more complicated by the fact that Private Manning had yet to be formally indicted or convicted of any crimes for the duration of this experience. Indefinite detention, especially in conditions of solitary confinement, of a person who hasn’t been charged with or convicted of any crimes is a frightening violation of Manning’s constitutional, civil and human rights according the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 11 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all of which collectively outline Manning’s right to humane treatment, the presumption of innocence, and a speedy trial.

Recently, after enduring nearly three years of pretrial detention (the legal maximum is 120 days), unconstitutional treatment, and some impressive judicial gymnastics, Manning’s trial date has been set for Feb. 4, 2013. If convicted, Manning faces life imprisonment or even the death penalty. It is not yet clear how or whether the conditions of his detention will affect the trial process, but hearings have been scheduled prior to the February trial date to consider the manner in which his detention, lack of speedy trial, and other aspects of this case are to be handled.

This is just one example of the U.S. government’s disregard for constitutional rights, and their refusal to cooperate with the wishes of the United Nations and the rest of the international community. Bradley Manning’s story is a textbook manifestation of the injustice that we as a people have fought against for so long. Unfortunately, a large portion of the American public is not exposed to information like this. Big Media rarely captures and conveys the severity of stories like Manning’s. Instead we are presented with an ever-flowing stream of misinformation and distraction.

Unless we continue to promote awareness of these and other injustices, the powers that be will continue to trample the rights of dissidents and whistleblowers alike, while the general public — potentially the most powerful political force in the United States — continues to fixate its attention on the mind-numbing escapades of whichever leather-skinned diva happens to be in the spotlight this year. If we ever hope to break the vicious cycle of distraction and diversion, we must constantly remind ourselves — and those around us — that when the law only applies to the weak, we consign ourselves to a future devoid of justice and equality for all.

It is up to those of us who have access to this knowledge to spread the word to the public in an attempt to draw attention to Private Manning’s predicament and hopefully affect change.

Joe Amditis is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in criminal justice and minoring in psychology and criminology. His column, “Swimming Upstream,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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