Is the U.S. Army stooping to Mafia-style tactics in seeking to imprison 23-year-old Private Bradley Manning for the rest of his life, essentially making him an example for other U.S. soldiers who might be tempted to put conscience and commitment to truth ahead of military discipline and going by the book?
If the Mafia comparison strikes you as a tad over the top, perhaps a seven-year trip down memory lane may prove instructive. Remember what happened after the U.S. Army learned of the obscene and brutal treatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in early 2004?
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba led the first (and only honest) investigation of the scandal. In May 2004, he completed a report that sharply criticized the Army and the higher-ups in the Bush administration for creating the conditions that permitted the mistreatment to occur.
When the report leaked to the press, Taguba found himself treated like a disloyal capo who had talked out of school about the Family business.
Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honor of the U.S. Army, the Bush administration singled out this hard-working, low-key general for retribution and forced retirement.
In an interview with New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, Taguba described a chilling conversation he had with Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command, a few weeks after Taguba’s report became public.
As the two men sat in the back of Abizaid’s Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, "You and your report will be investigated."
"I’d been in the Army 32 years by then," Taguba told Hersh, "and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia."
It was also an early indication that Taguba’s military career was nearing its end because the general had given the American people a glimpse into the dark world of the Bush administration’s policies of torture and murder.
Hersh wrote that the sensitivity over Taguba’s report went beyond its graphic account of physical and sexual abuse of Iraqis detained at Abu Ghraib; it also brought unwanted attention to a wider pattern of criminal acts committed with the approval of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"The administration feared that the publicity would expose more secret operations and practices," including special military task forces set up to roam the world and assassinate suspected terrorists, Hersh wrote. Hersh quoted a retired CIA officer as saying the task-force teams "had full authority to whack – to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’" a phrase meaning assassination.
"It was surrealistic what these guys were doing," the ex-officer told Hersh. "They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the [CIA] chief of station."
Then, in January 2006, Taguba’s career got the proverbial kiss on the cheek. Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff, called Taguba and without pleasantries or explanation told Taguba, "I need you to retire by January 2007." [New Yorker, June 25, 2007]
No Medal for Honesty
So, the general who had violated the omerta code of silence was banished from the Bush administration’s Mafia.
Of course, Taguba was not alone. There were other brave souls – albeit not enough – who challenged Bush’s unconstitutional and illegal policies. All of them met similar fates of banishment, punishment, and ridicule, the likes of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
There is a much longer list of disgraceful examples of war crimes (many still continuing): Reprisal attacks on Iraqi cities like Fallujah, using white phosphorous and depleted uranium weapons; torture, deemed "enhanced interrogation" by the wordsmiths in Washington; orders to look the other way as detainees continue to be tortured by Iraqi security forces; and drone and other air attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that kill unarmed civilians, euphemistically dismissed as "collateral damage."
Just last month, there was Gen. David Petraeus shocking Afghan government officials with his suggestion that Afghan parents are burning their own children to cast blame on the U.S. military for its indiscriminate air assaults.
For his part, Taguba remained a stalwart on behalf of the Army’s honor. He publicly condemned prisoner abuse and eventually called for the prosecution of those responsible. He has written, "There is no longer any doubt that the current [Bush] administration committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account."
More than two years after President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney left office, it seems safe to guess the answer to Taguba’s question. Accountability? Fuggetaboutit!
For various reasons ranging from expediency to cowardice, the Obama administration has taken no steps to hold the perpetrators of those war crimes accountable. The only hope is that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the faux-lawyers who "approved" the torture may eventually be held accountable abroad under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction.
This possibility already accounts for why many don’t venture abroad; they fear capture and prosecution. Rumsfeld had to beat a hasty exit from Paris in October 2007, and Bush had to cancel a planned trip to Geneva last month — just to be on the safe side. But U.S. "Justice" officials are neither investigating nor prosecuting.
Manning’s Forced Nudity
Even worse, the recent behavior of today’s Pentagon brass – and their new political overlords – gives further support to Taguba’s comparison of them to the Mafia.
When Private Bradley Manning put his conscience ahead of his personal well-being by allegedly releasing important information to the world’s public via WikiLeaks, he was put into an inhumane solitary confinement and is now facing charges that carry the possibility of him spending the rest of his life in prison.
One of the charges is "aiding the enemy," a military crime punishable by execution, although Pentagon officials apparently thought they were showing some mercy when they let it be known that they would not seek the death penalty against Manning.
The Army, however, has been treating Manning in ways reminiscent of the detainees at Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s various "black sites." He has been locked in his cell at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, for 23 hours a day and barred from interaction with other prisoners even during his one hour of "exercise" in an empty room.
On Wednesday, Manning was stripped of his clothes and forced to remain naked in his cell for seven hours. He also was required to stand naked during an inspection. A U.S. military spokesman confirmed the incident, calling it "not punitive," but said he couldn’t explain why Manning suffered forced nudity because to explain would violate "the detainee’s privacy."
On Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Geoffrey Morrell defended the general conditions of Manning’s maximum security imprisonment due to "the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence [and] the national security implications" as well as his personal safety. [NYT, March 4, 2011]
So, authorizing, plotting and carrying out torture, assassinations and aggressive warfare – violations of both U.S. legal principles and international law – get you no punishment, only hefty speaking fees from friendly political groups and fat contracts from book publishers.
But sharing facts with the public – and helping the spread of democracy across the Middle East and around the world – gets you life in prison under harsh and humiliating conditions.
If the allegations against him are true, it appears that Private Bradley Manning did essentially what Daniel Ellsberg did four decades ago when he exposed the duplicity of the White House and the U.S. Army regarding Vietnam. That is Ellsberg’s own opinion, too.
And apparently Manning has done it in precisely the way that Ellsberg and others of the Truth-Telling Coalition recommended in September 2004. (See their statement below.)
The duplicity, corruption, and abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere around the world needed to be exposed in a timely way. And the public needed the official documents, so there would be no doubt about the information’s authenticity. [See, for instance, this "Panorama" program from German ARD TV.]
Indeed, in a just world, we would be considering Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize, since his alleged release of U.S. war logs and diplomatic cables about wrongdoing in places like Tunisia and Egypt did more to oust dictators and give hope for democracy than anything an American president has done in recent memory.
Shouldn’t Manning be accorded honors heavier than the cumulative weight of the ten rows of ribbons, badges and medals weighing down the left breast of Gen. Petraeus and so many other oh-so-admired generals?
And, if their inept and brutal war-making was not humiliating enough, they now have to swallow Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s opinion (quoting Gen. Douglas MacArthur) that anyone who "advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia … should ‘have his head examined.’"
However, instead of lining up at the psychiatrist’s office on the nearest base, the Army brass has decided to imprison Bradley Manning for the rest of his life. Apparently, if you can’t kill the messenger, the next best thing is to lock him up in solitary forever.
After all, how better to demonstrate to other soldiers the punishment that one should expect – locked away in a tiny cell with minimal human contact for a half century or more – should s/he be tempted to follow Manning’s example.
How better to divert attention from the damning substance of the WikiLeaks documents, and to focus attention instead on the supposed sins of releasing classified material.
And how better to divert attention from the awkward fact that many of the documents were only classified to prevent embarrassment to the U.S. government and the Army, and NOT to safeguard any genuine national security secrets.
Despite much teeth-gnashing in the Fawning Corporate Media about the irresponsibility of Manning and WikiLeaks, the Army has been unable to make a single credible claim that anyone, or anything but reputations, has actually been hurt by the disclosures.
One of my greatest regrets is that the Army in which I felt honored to serve has become quite a different animal. It is hard to avoid concluding that the biggest difference between Mafia dons and today’s Army brass is that the dons are less ham-handed about what they do.
Editor’s Note: Below is a Sept. 9, 2004, memo to "current government officials" from "the Truth-Telling Coalition" urging the disclosure of government secrets, especially relating to war, as an act of conscience:
It is time for unauthorized truth telling.
Citizens cannot make informed choices if they do not have the facts — for example, the facts that have been wrongly concealed about the ongoing war in Iraq: the real reasons behind it, the prospective costs in blood and treasure, and the setback it has dealt to efforts to stem terrorism. Administration deception and cover-up on these vital matters has so far been all too successful in misleading the public.
Many Americans are too young to remember Vietnam. Then, as now, senior government officials did not tell the American people the truth. Now, as then, insiders who know better have kept their silence, as the country was misled into the most serious foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.
Some of you have documentation of wrongly concealed facts and analyses that — if brought to light — would impact heavily on public debate regarding crucial matters of national security, both foreign and domestic. We urge you to provide that information now, both to Congress and, through the media, to the public.
Thanks to our First Amendment, there is in America no broad Officials Secrets Act, nor even a statutory basis for the classification system. Only very rarely would it be appropriate to reveal information of the three types whose disclosure has been expressly criminalized by Congress: communications intelligence, nuclear data, and the identity of US intelligence operatives. However, this administration has stretched existing criminal laws to cover other disclosures in ways never contemplated by Congress.
There is a growing network of support for whistleblowers. In particular, for anyone who wishes to know the legal implications of disclosures they may be contemplating, the ACLU stands ready to provide pro bono legal counsel, with lawyer-client privilege. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) will offer advice on whistle blowing, dissemination and relations with the media.
Needless to say, any unauthorized disclosure that exposes your superiors to embarrassment entails personal risk. Should you be identified as the source, the price could be considerable, including loss of career and possibly even prosecution. Some of us know from experience how difficult it is to countenance such costs. But continued silence brings an even more terrible cost, as our leaders persist in a disastrous course and young Americans come home in coffins or with missing limbs.
This is precisely what happened at this comparable stage in the Vietnam War. Some of us live with profound regret that we did not at that point expose the administration’s dishonesty and perhaps prevent the needless slaughter of 50,000 more American troops and some 2 to 3 million Vietnamese over the next ten years. We know how misplaced loyalty to bosses, agencies, and careers can obscure the higher allegiance all government officials owe the Constitution, the sovereign public, and the young men and women put in harm’s way. We urge you to act on those higher loyalties.
A hundred forty thousand young Americans are risking their lives every day in Iraq for dubious purpose. Our country has urgent need of comparable moral courage from its public officials. Truth telling is a patriotic and effective way to serve the nation. The time for speaking out is now.
Appeal from the Truth-Telling Coalition
Edward Costello, Former Special Agent (Counterintelligence), Federal Bureau of Investigation
Sibel Edmonds, Former Language Specialist, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Daniel Ellsberg, Former official, U.S. Departments of Defense and State
John D. Heinberg, Former Economist, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor
Larry C. Johnson, Former Deputy Director for Anti-Terrorism Assistance, Transportation Security, and Special Operations, Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism
Lt. Col Karen Kwiatowski, USAF (ret.), who served in the Pentagon’s Office of Near East Planning
John Brady Kiesling, Former Political Counselor, U.S. Embassy, Athens, Department of State
David MacMichael, Former Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council, Central Intelligence Agency
Ray McGovern, Former Analyst, Central Intelligence Agency
Philip G. Vargas, Ph.D., J.D., Dir. Privacy & Confidentiality Study, Commission on Federal Paperwork (Author/Director: "The Vargas Report on Government Secrecy" — CENSORED)
Ann Wright, Retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and U.S. Foreign Service Officer