San Diego – I’ll be so glad when this episode is behind us and we can get back to Christmas and PHOTOGRAPHY and even photo education — which is what I expected this page to be mostly about. But there is a continuing issue that to me is most unsettling about the whole WikiLeaks drama. First, let me reiterate my basic feelings about the events: I think the young soldier who is accused of collecting and distributing the material and documents to Assange, if convicted, is clearly guilty of a litany of crimes ranging from military dereliction of duty all the way to treason. He is not a hero, not a whistle blower, not a Daniel Ellsberg, but a person who violated his oath, his general and special orders, and performed acts designed to aid and abet ANY enemy of this country.
Assange, who received the stuff from an insider is a bit more problematic. There is no allegation he solicited it only that having received it he disseminated it. Although, as I wrote earlier I think that has made, at least in the short term, the geopolitical world of secrets and diplomacy a much less stable place and therefore far more dangerous, I’m not sure the facts, as they have become public, really paint a picture of a spy, someone engaged in high stakes espionage, or rather simply an ideological idiot which is not, unfortunately, a crime. I’d still get out the tar and feathers mentioned in my first note on this but that is largely to have him serve as an object lesson on the all too seldomly applied results of stupidity.
So I think and wrote (below) that the release of that information in such an indiscriminate manner was a dangerous thing for the world and for us. I already wrote too that perhaps some good might come of it if we actually read it; and why not, now that it is available to everyone: it is important to know what our enemies know and willful ignorance never makes us safer or smarter or better? We should use it as a springboard and engage in a dialogue about how can we, as a country, move toward the ethical high ground we espouse and upon which we were founded without making us easy targets to the real bad guys out there. That would indeed be a good thing.
But meantime something, if we truly DO want that ethical high ground to return, is occurring that we need to decry and call for its ending, and that is the pre-trial treatment of the young soldier, Pvt Bradley Manning. Oh spare me the retort that “But he is a traitor and deserves no less than drawing and quartering!” First of all, he is a traitor when and only when he is adjudicated to be one. At this point he stands accused of… releasing secret documents. Not a good thing, to be sure but under our system he is merely the accused and not the convicted. Lynch-mob mentality is something we say we abhor but it is certainly in action here. But in the meantime, he is in the Quantico brig in solitary confinement and has been confined to 23 hrs a day in the next best thing to sensory deprivation for 7 months (2 months in Kuwait and 5 months in Quantico). Our own court rulings in a number of cases have stated clearly that confinement in extreme isolation over extended period is a form of torture. He is now on medications for depression to keep him marginally sane from the treatment. Does that not give some message about it?
If in fact he is convicted of treason I have not problem with any sentence including a death sentence. Treason is, in my book, a very big deal. But until he is convicted, our Constitution and our traditional values abhor the kind of treatment that is meted out to political prisoners by the tin hat dictators and to dissidents by autocratic and all powerful regimes we say we hate. I believe down to my toes that he was misguided and ideologically naive and in that blinded ideological state may have committed crimes up to and including treason for which, I think, if convicted, he deserves punishment. But in the meantime, if we the citizens, the voters of our country, have allowed our government to become so internally powerful (which is what it now clearly desires) that it is allowed to treat those who disagree with it and its policies like this without a fair trial or tribunal then we are no better than the hated regimes of dictators we demonize.
Don’t misunderstand me, I do not believe for a moment that WikiLeaks is an exercise of “Free Speech.” Had Manning or Assange gone public and declared they had certain knowledge of ugly things and how countries around the world including ours were trampling on the rights of other people and lying about reality to serve their ends, THAT would have been free speech. Had they written a book quoting salient passages but expurgating sections that put lives and diplomatic initiatives at stake, that would have been responsible free speech. But not this. If in fact Manning did as accused he is at least a criminal of the same stature as the Walker family of a few years ago; perhaps worse. They gave up secrets to the Soviets while Manning, if the allegations are borne out, in effect gave them to everyone who might wish us harm. Sorry, that is treason. But it is ONLY treason when the court or tribunal says it is. And until that time, putting him in military grade solitary confinement is a cruel and extreme punishment for crimes for which he is not yet convicted and in this country, under our values — or at least the ones we claim to hold dear — that is not acceptable.
What you can do to one, you can do to anyone.
Perhaps the argument is that it is intended to protect him from other military prisoners who would happily kill him. But if in the greatest nation on earth we cannot find a means to confine him safely yet avoid the horrors of his type of solitary confinement reflective of the mother of all solitary confinement regimens perfected at the Supermax prison in Colorado for prisoners who were simply over the top violent and not for those considered, as Manning is, to be a model prisoner, then we need to simply admit the truth of it. Or admit we simply want to get a jump start on the execution we expect to flow from a stacked deck in court and be done with it.