Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pentagon Torture of Manning Recalls Stalin Era Abuses

Submitted by Sherwood Ross

The United States of America is in the process of slowly and deliberately destroying a human being before the eyes of the world. All of President Obama's posturing about the conduct of dictator Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya will not expunge his own calculated cruelty in allowing his Pentagon to continue the degrading and dehumanizing punishments being inflicted on PFC Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army intelligence specialist accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of files to WikiLeaks. AP reports Manning has now been charged with “aiding the enemy,” a crime that can bring the death penalty or life in prison.

Whatever Manning has done, if anything, the Pentagon has no right to reduce him to a vegetative state. Yet that is what it is doing, using methods similar to those for punishing dissidents under Stalin. As military commander-in-chief, Obama could put the kibosh on the Pentagon's sadism, which Manning has endured these past seven months locked in maximum security solitary in the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Va. Yet Obama shows no inclination to honor the Constitution's 8th Amendment that forbids “cruel and unusual punishments”. “Bizarre” is the only word for the latest Pentagon humiliation that requires Manning to stand to attention for inspection outside his 6 by 12-ft. cell each morning stark naked.

“Is this Quantico or Abu Ghraib?” Rep. Dennis Kucinich(D.-Ohio) asked rhetorically in a statement quoted by CBS News. “Officials have confirmed the ‘non-punitive’ stripping of an American soldier who has not been found guilty of any crime. This ‘non-punitive’ action would be considered a violation of the Army Field Manual if used in an interrogation overseas. The justification for and purpose of this action certainly raises questions of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and could constitute a potential violation of international law,” Kucinich said.

The Congressman cited the Army Field Manuel, which states: “If used in conjunction with intelligence interrogations, prohibited actions include...Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.”

Oddly, the Pentagon is inflicting a number of punishments on Manning that appear similar, and may have been borrowed from, the dread NKVD secret police under Soviet Communist dictator Joseph Stalin. Stripping a prisoner naked is only one of them. Under the pretext of seeing that he is okay, Manning's guards ask him, “Are you okay?” every five minutes and require him to respond in the affirmative. In the course of a 16-hour day this comes to nearly 200 interruptions and is, in fact, a form of continuous interrogation. Russian Nobel laureate novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote “In The First Circle”(Harper) that in Moscow's Lubyanka prison “A guard had to peep through every (cell's) spy hole at least once every three minutes.” The Pentagon's harassment of Manning goes way beyond the remote spying practiced by the Communists.

In other ways, Manning's incarceration also resembles that of Soviet citizens cast into the Lubyanka. He is forbidden to sleep between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. even if he is tired. Solzhenitsyn writes of a “prisoner in a cataleptic trance from enforced sleeplessness in blindingly lit boxes, one meter square...” And like prisoners of the Communists, Manning is required to sleep with his hands outside his blankets. If he should pull his blanket over his head or turn his face to the wall where it is not visible, guards will enter and awaken him. Those who have visited Manning in the brig say they see an apparent deterioration in his mental state similar to “the cataleptic trance” described by Solzhenitsyn.

According to “Torture and Democracy,”(Princeton University Press), author Darium Rejali writes, “Stalin's NKVD favored a procedure involving sleep deprivation, continuous interrogation, and positional tortures dubbed 'The Conveyor,' and it is reasonable to conclude that it preferred these techniques because it aimed to be stealthy.”

Like many of Communism's victims, Manning is forbidden to exercise in his own cell, where he is confined for 23 hours of each day, apparently part of a Pentagon ploy to wear down his body as well as his mind. What's the harm in a prisoner doing sit-ups or push-ups in his cell? If he should attempt to do so guards will force Manning to stop. He is allowed to walk about in a designated room for one hour each day---but only in shackles and if he stops for any reason the exercise period is cut short. Where on this earth will one find any athlete who says that walking in circles dragging chains for an hour day in and day out is “exercise”? That's not how NFL and NBA players train. And it's not likely what Quantico Marines do for “exercise.”

Middle East scholar Lawrence Davidson, in an article for Internet's “Media With a Conscience,” wrote: “The Commandant at Quantico has apparently seen fit to turn his brig into a stateside version of one of those infamous black hole detention facilities used by the which the Bush gang conducted 'torture by proxy.' At Quantico we have decided to torture Bradley Manning ourselves.”

Yes, indeed. But whether President Obama's Pentagon can destroy PFC Manning's mind before his trial remains to be seen. In the process, though, it is surely degrading whatever humanitarian values America has left after a decade of initiating wars of aggression and creating a nightmarish global prison system infamous for its bizarre tortures.

(Sherwood Ross directs the Anti-War News Service(AWNS). He formerly worked as a columnist for wire services and as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. To contribute to AWNS or comment, reach him at

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