Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 16/03/11

America? What The F---!?

You will currently see on the home page of this here site a couple of graphics with a common theme (*). The first one illustrates my current King Charles' Head, the fate of Edward Woollard.

As egregious a miscarriage of justice as that is, there are worse. Far worse.

Let me take a few quotes from an article which appeared in The Guardian today. See if you can guess which backward, third-world kleptocracy you would expect to treat unconvicted and untried prisoners like this:

"------ is allowed visits only on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the week he is kept in his cell 23 hours a day, fed a daily diet of antidepressant pills, forbidden to exercise in his cell, and forcibly woken if he attempts to sleep in the daytime. He is continually subject to what is called "maximum custody", and also to a so-called "prevention of injury" order, which among other things, deprives him of his clothes at night and also of normal sheets and bedding in favour of a blanket he describes as being like the lead apron used when operating x-ray machines. He is allowed no personal possessions."

Getting warm? Here's a bit more:

"Problems increased after a small demonstration at the [...] gates. He was then abruptly placed on a further "suicide watch". He wrote in a letter of protest, submitted by his lawyer, a reserve lieutenant colonel in the military: "I was stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness." He writes: "I became upset. Out of frustration, I clenched my hair with my fingers and yelled: 'Why are you doing this to me? Why am I being punished? I have done nothing wrong.'"

Still not quite got it? Some more:

"The suicide watch was lifted after protests, but following the refusal of an appeal to downgrade his status to that of a normal prisoner, more indignities appear to have been invented. ------ says he made the mistake of saying sarcastically that he could no doubt harm himself with the elastic of his boxer shorts at night. The shorts were then taken away and he was made to parade naked."

One last touch:

"He has to take the antidepressant medication the military give him - directly before the hour in which he can either watch TV or write or take a shower. He finds it very hard to write under the influence of these antidepressants - and also at some points they do not give him a pen."

Some horrific military dictatorship, right? Of the sort regularly railed against by - for example - the US government (except when the dictatorship has large-scale oil reserves, natch), right?

Except that - as you may well have guessed from the complete giveaway in the title of this piece - all this is being done by the US government; or, at least, its military arm.

For the un-named victim of these weird and sordid practices is Private First Class Bradley Manning, US Army. Manning's alleged crime is that he passed data to Wikileaks including the infamous video footage of a US Apache helicopter crew murdering twelve Iraqi citizens in cold blood in July 2007.

Note that I said alleged there; that's very important.

Having been held initially at a US military prison in Kuwait, Manning was transported back to the US in July 2010 and placed in 'maximum custody' in a Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Va. awaiting medical reports and a pre-trial hearing. 'Maximum custody' in this case seems to involve - amongst other things - solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, no proper bedclothes, enforced medication and public humiliation (this last particularly nasty as Manning is gay). He has been on suicide watch or the next most intense measure to it, despite a number of official psychiatrists clearly stating that Manning is a low risk of self-harm.

This has rightly attracted the attention of human-rights organisations and other activists, including the United Nations and Amnesty. Only last week, a spokesman for the US State Department itself went on record to describe the US military's treatment of Manning as "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid". The spokesman was forced to resign two days later.

The pressure for his removal came from the White House itself, where the ever more disillusioning Obama claimed that all was well because the Department of Defense had told him so.

What makes this even worse is that it is likely that Manning isn't even the real target of the US régime. That would appear to be Julian Assange, head honcho of Wikileaks, which released large quantities of information from diplomatic cables and other communications which showed the way in which Washington was controlling and suborning governments and states around the world. The US are keen for Assange to be extradited from the UK to Sweden for questioning regarding a strangely set-up sexual encounter Assange is supposed to have had in that country; the US obviously sees this as an opportunity to demand Assange's further extradition to America so that he can be subject to a politicised trial and sentence there.

To this end, the inhuman and dehumanising treatment of Bradley Manning is quite clearly intended to break him so that he will give a confession - however inaccurate, however coerced - implicating Assange. No matter that any such confession would be chucked out of any civilian court in any country based on the proper rules of justice; Manning faces military law and so is at an immediate disadvantage, given that military law (of whatever country) is designed first and foremost to protect the amour propre of the military establishment itself. And so Manning - should he break, and even if he doesn't - faces being stitched up completely and subjected to penalties of up to life imprisonment without parole, especially as the US military are throwing just about every charge they can think of at him in order to coerce him into incriminating either himself or Assange, including one of 'aiding the enemy' ('enemy' being as yet undefined; perhaps it's the American people, or even the truth) which carries the possibility of the death penalty (although the DoD have kindly decided that they won't press for that - what sweeties they are).

Manning's real 'crime' (should he have committed one at all) seems to have been to try to help the poor, misruled and misinformed citizens of the United States learn of some of the criminal acts which are being carried out by that country's government in their name. In embarrassing the political and military hierarchy, he would have served his people well. Unfortunately the events at Quantico serve a very different purpose; it is to demonstrate to anyone else in the US military who has had a gutful of staying silent regarding the criminal acts carried out by their 'comrades-in-arms' and covered up by their commanders that - should they give in to their consciences - they too will be made examples of and have their lives destroyed in the name of America The Omnipotent.

Or, if not their lives, then certainly their minds. The treatment of Private First Class Bradley Manning at Quantico clearly constitutes inhumane treatment, if not in some aspects of it actual torture as defined by the international laws to which the US is - at least in theory - a signatory. Solitary confinement - especially over a long period of time - has been demonstrated time and again to have a permanently debilitating effect on its victims. All the other disgraceful indignities being piled upon Manning at present are likely merely to hasten the process so that - even if by some miracle Manning is acquitted or released - he will have been irreparably damaged by the experience.

And all this is happening to someone who hasn't even been tried yet, let alone convicted.

That this should happen in the US - and to one of their own citizens - seems to demonstrate that the downward spiral into decadence and inhumanity into which that country has been spinning for many years continues unabated irrespective of which cipher occupies the Oval Office. For, make no mistake, Obama could order a relaxation of Bradley Manning's conditions tomorrow should he choose to do so; he is, after all, Commander-in-Chief. That he does not seem to wish to do so would indicate not only that he is an irredeemably weak man, but that his country is heading towards - and indeed may have already become in many respects - a form of dictatorship not only by the corporate interests which long ago suborned Congress, but also by the armchair generals of the Pentagon, both of these establishments aided and abetted by a wide variety of religious maniacs.

So, the next time you hear an American yabbing on about their 'freedom' and 'democracy', just counter with two words:

Bradley Manning.

(*) Not now, though - see here.