In Our Name

[CONTENT NOTE: This essay was written before Chelsea Manning announced through her lawyer that she is transgender, and hence refers to her using her previously understood name and pronouns.]

There is an American soldier being held in captivity right now. His captors are psychologically torturing him, humiliating him on a daily basis, in a coordinated attempt to break his will, to force him to confess to crimes he did not commit. President Obama is not only aware of the situation and doing nothing to stop it, he is in fact the Commander-in-Chief of the military force committing the torture.

Private First Class Bradley Manning has been in custody for nearly a year, held without bail while he awaits trial for leaking a trove of classified material to Wikileaks. He is, in other words, an innocent man not yet proven guilty – yet he has been held at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virgina, in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day since May 2010. Any honest psychiatrist – any common-sensed individual – will agree that Bradley Manning’s treatment at the hands of the US government constitutes psychological torture. A person kept in isolation continuously for months on end will eventually lose his personality: he will go insane.

Jose Padilla presents a good example of our use of psychiatric science against the accused. The so-called “Dirty Bomber” was arrested at O’Hare back in 2002 and publicly accused of (though not charged with) trying to smuggle a suitcase nuke into the country. An American citizen, Padilla was held for two years without charge, mostly in solitary confinement. The government never did charge him with anything nuclear-related – or anything much at all, really: “conspiracy to support Islamic terrorism overseas“, about the easiest law in Christendom on which to book subversives with life sentences. By that point it didn’t matter, though: Padilla was a walking shell of his former self, and Big Brother’s point was made.

P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State until last week, was forced out of the administration for his candid comments on the treatment of Bradley Manning, which he called “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” In addition to the solitary confinement, Mr Crowley was likely also referring to the presidentially approved policy of forcing Manning to strip naked on a daily basis for added humiliation. All done for Private Manning’s own safety, or so our wise leader assures us.


Official records kept at the brig, released recently by Manning’s lawyer, reveal that between last August and January military psychiatrists made no fewer than 16 recommendations to their military commanders that Manning should be taken off the [Prevention of Injury] restrictions because he was no threat to himself.

Typical of the entries was that of 29 October 2010, which stated that Manning “was evaluated by the brig psychiatrist and found fit to be removed from prevention of injury classification from a psychiatric standpoint”.

The message is clear, and it comes straight from the top: You will submit. The President and his legal team need Manning to testify that he engaged in a conspiracy with Julian Assange to steal US secrets. That is the only way to differentiate their behavior from, say, CBS News publishing secret information leaked by a disgruntled tobacco employee. The government is keeping Manning in the hole while using every delaying tactic they can to extend his pretrial confinement, precisely so that he will be unable to mount an effective defense of himself.


Obama has shown himself to be as enthralled as his predecessor with the image of Julius Caesar – the “unitary executive” theory of a strong, independent president watching over the nation. Listen to the Augustan tone of his voice as he describes the plight of the innocent civilians whom our moral uprightness now compels us to protect in Libya. He has not requested a resolution from Congress (would Caesar stand before the weak Senate begging permission?) but has taken it upon himself to unleash our feral war machine upon yet another Muslim country.

What about Yemen and Bahrain, where tyrants are also using force against the people? Or the crown jewel herself, Saudi Arabia, now busy sending troops to assist the Bahraini royals with their plebeian disturbance – what if they should suffer their own threatened dissolution? If there are demands for the House of Saud to be scheduled for a controlled demolition, if shots are fired and people die on the streets of Riyadh, will the American Caesar be tempted to “act”?

Obama had a chance to reject this overreaching role for the presidency. He could have sought an honest end to Guantanamo (moving an illegal prison onto US soil doesn’t count); investigated the Abu Ghraib torture scandal; or denied immunity to the telecoms for their part in the illegal NSA wiretapping program. Instead, he has escalated the secret wars in Pakistan and Yemen (relying on barbaric drone attacks), while denying any and all victims of American torture access to American courts.

Though other countries have made attempts at redress, Obama has protected the American torture regime, and joined it. He has conferred upon it the ultimate Washington glory: bipartisan consensus.  It is no longer a fringe position to find torture to be in the interest of “national security.” And there, but for the grace of Caesar, go we.