March 21, 2011
Under American law, anyone accused of a crime is innocent until found guilty by a jury of his or her peers. This applies to Private Manning as much as it does to you and me. Since Manning is by law presumed innocent, the Defense Department must stop punishing him as if he were already guilty and somehow exempt from the Eighth Amendment. That he has been confined in isolation since last May is also a denial of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of “a speedy and public trial.” If the government needs a year or more to prepare its case against him, it has all the more reason to treat him decently and lawfully while he is forced to wait.
I know something about confinement. In 1987, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah militia kidnapped me and held me in solitary confinement for sixty-two days. Food was so inadequate that my weight dropped more than twenty-five pounds. Water became so scarce that I suffered from dehydration. Anyone seeing the succession of sealed rooms in which I was held would have concluded I was being treated cruelly. But no one tortured me. No one made me stand naked in front of other people. No one degraded my humanity in the way Bradley Manning’s has been. When the Marine Corps treat an American Army detainee worse than kidnappers in Beirut treated their captives, something is wrong.
If I can empathize with Manning, Dr. Gates, I suspect you can as well. In 1987, you were not far from being arrested yourself for your role in the Iran-Contra Affair. As you recall, chief prosecutor Lawrence Walsh considered bringing charges against you. CIA officers Richard Kerr and Charles E. Allen testified that they had informed you the Nicaraguan Contras were receiving funds diverted from the Reagan Administration’s illegal weapons sales to Iran well before you said you remembered learning of it. In the absence of third-party witnesses to your discussions with Kerr and Allen, Lawrence Walsh elected not to indict you. Having been that close to an indictment and possible incarceration, you would have strenuously objected to being treated like Bradley Manning while awaiting your own trial. The officials involved in illegal arms sales to Iraq and Iran were committing a far more serious crime against constitutional government than a mere Army private who gave information to a website for public dissemination.
The United States must demonstrate its commitment to justice”perhaps even to justice tempered with mercy. If it cannot intervene everywhere on Earth to guarantee the right not to be tortured for others such as the Libyans or Bahrainis, it can at least set an example by not tormenting those in its own custody. It can avoid behaving like the regimes it sponsors in the Middle East, including the Saudi, Bahraini, and Yemeni governments whose populations suffer torture, detention without trial, and other infamies. We may not give the people of the Middle East practical support against the police forces we have armed and trained, but we can at least provide the moral example of adhering to the values that they seek and we claim to uphold.