by Conor Friedersdorf
As I read Glenn Greenwald's post on the conditions under which Bradley Manning is being held, mentioned before in this Dish roundup, I cannot help but reflect upon how much less I trust my own country now on matters concerning the treatment of prisoners, whether they're accused of crimes, already convicted, or stuck in War on Terror limbo. It just wouldn't surprise me very much if we were abusing someone and covering it up, though of course we'd never be so Third World as to use crude tools like drills or needles: sensory deprivation, water boarding, and long term isolation is more America's style because the lack of marks enables us to persist in the self-delusion that we aren't a country capable of behaving barbarically.
In my opinion, locking up someone who has not presented any kind of threat to other prisoners and who has not been convicted of a crime for months on end in solitary confinement under tight restrictions is torture. It's horrible enough to do it someone who has been convicted, but using these techniques on someone you are trying to get to testify against someone else cannot be seen in any other light.
As we well know by now, the line between interrogation and torture has become indistinguishable among far too many people and many of these more suspect interrogation techniques are likely to produce the same kind of false information you get from torture. So one aspect of the Manning story stuck out at me as being pretty damning evidence and that's the fact that he's being awakened every five minutes during the day and if the guards "need" to assure themselves that he's ok, they wake him up at night. Keep in mind that this is a guy who's completely isolated and has no access to anything unauthorized, not even a real blanket and pillow. (Apparently, he's got some strange device that makes him miserable.)
Sympathetic as I am to attempts at assessing whether torture is happening, I wonder if a focus on the t-word isn't counterproductive. It allows defenders of the status quo to keep the focus on a contentious, politically charged argument about terminology. But torture or not, this treatment is abhorrent and inexcusable, as anyone can see for themselves if they imagine it being done to an innocent person. I don't think that Manning is innocent, nor do I have any problem with him being jailed for several decades if he is found guilty. As yet, however, he hasn't been convicted of any crime.
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