The Humiliation of Bradley Manning

Exclusive: The pre-trial hearing on Pvt. Bradley Manning’s court martial for leaking classified documents about U.S. government wrongdoing has turned up evidence that even Manning’s Marine jailers were worried about the controversy over his degrading treatment in their custody, reports ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

It is a bitter irony that Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, whose conscience compelled him to leak evidence about the U.S. military brass ignoring evidence of torture in Iraq, was himself the victim of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while other military officers privately took note but did nothing.

That was one of the revelations at Manning’s pre-trial hearing at Ft. Meade, Maryland, on Tuesday, as Manning’s defense counsel David Coombs used e-mail exchanges to show Marine officers grousing that the Marines had been left holding the bag on Manning’s detention at their base in Quantico, Virginia, though he was an Army soldier.

A protester marching in support of Pvt. Bradley Manning. (Photo credit:

At Quantico, Manning, who is accused of giving hundreds of thousands of pages of classified material to WikiLeaks, was subjected to harsh treatment. He was locked in a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell for 23 hours a day and was kept naked for long periods. His incarceration led the UN Rapporteur for Torture to complain that Manning was being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

According to the e-mail evidence, the controversy over the rough handling of Manning prompted Quantico commander, Marine Col. Daniel Choike, to complain bitterly that not one Army officer was in the chain of blame. Choike’s lament prompted an e-mail reply from his commander, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, offering assurances that Choike and Quantico would not be left “holding the bag.”

However, concerns about possible repercussions from softening up Manning did little to ease the conditions that Manning faced. His Marine captors seemed eager to give him the business and make him an example to any other prospective whistleblowers. Only after a sustained public outcry was Manning transferred to the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Though his treatment was less harsh there, Manning still has faced 2 ½ years of incarceration without trial and could face up to life imprisonment after a court martial into his act of conscience, i.e. releasing extensive evidence of wrongdoing by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and questionable foreign policies carried out by the U.S. State Department.

The release of the documents led to hundreds of news stories, including some that revealed the willful inaction of U.S. military brass when informed of torture inflicted on Iraqi prisoners held by the U.S.-backed Iraqi military.

Manning’s Conscience

As a young intelligence analyst in Iraq, Pvt. Manning grew disgusted with evidence passing through his computer terminal revealing the secretive dark side of the U.S. military occupation, including this pattern of high-level disinterest in Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture, which resulted from a directive known as Frago 242, guidelines from senior Pentagon officials not to interfere with abusive treatment of Iraqi government detainees.

As the UK Guardian reported in 2010 based on the leaked documents, Frago 242 was a “fragmentary order” summarizing a complex requirement, in this case, one issued in June 2004 ordering American troops not to investigate torture violations unless they involved members of the occupying coalition led by the United States.

When alleged abuse was inflicted by Iraqis on Iraqis, “only an initial report will be made No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ,” the Guardian reported, adding: “Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the [Iraqi] regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.”

Some cases of torture were flagrant, according to the disregarded “initial” reports. For instance, the Guardian cited a log report of “a man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker [and] reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists.

“The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.

“Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains.

“At the torturer’s whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.

“Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.

“There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.”

Possessing such evidence and knowing that the U.S. high command was systematically ignoring these and other crimes Manning was driven by a sense of morality to get the evidence to the American people and to the world.

Punishing Morality

For his act of conscience, Manning has become the subject of harsh incarceration himself, as some U.S. pundits and even members of Congress have called for his execution as a traitor. At minimum, however, he has been made an example to anyone else tempted to tell hard truths.

Many in Official Washington find nothing wrong with humiliating Manning with forced nudity and breaking down his psychiatric health through prolonged isolation. After all, they say, his release of classified information might have put the lives of some U.S. allies at risk (although there is no known evidence to support that concern).

There also are legal constraints upon the United States dishing out particularly nasty treatment to Pvt. Manning. Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners is expressly banned by the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994.

And there are no exceptions for “wartime” whistleblowers like Manning. Here’s what the Convention says: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture” and “an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture” (Art. 2 (2-3)).”

Personally, when I attended the Tuesday proceeding, I dreaded sitting through another “pre-trial hearing,” having been bored stiff at earlier sessions. But it was a welcome surprise to witness first-hand proof that military courts can still hold orderly proceedings bereft (on Tuesday, at least) of “command influence.”

Most illuminating at Tuesday’s hearing was the central fact that the virtually indestructible nature of e-mail facilitates the kind of documentary evidence that lawyers lust after whether they be attorneys, FBI investigators or just plain folks fed up with lies and faux history.

To the Marine Corps’ credit, I suppose, there was no evidence at the hearing that anyone had tried to expunge the e-mail correspondence revealing the fears about being left “holding the bag” on the harsh treatment of Manning.

E-Mail vs. Petraeus

So the availability of e-mail is the major new reality playing out in several major ways. As we have seen, former Gen. David Petraeus is a notable recent victim of the truth that can turn up in e-mail.

I used to call him “Petraeus ex Machina” for the faux-success of the celebrated “surge” in Iraq, which cost almost 1,000 additional U.S. troops dead (and many more Iraqis) to buy a “decent interval” for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to get out of town without a clear-cut military defeat hung around their necks.

As it turned out, “Petraeus ex Machina,” after a little more than a year as CIA director, was undone in a sex scandal exposed by the modern “machine” of e-mail.

More to the point, the torrent of e-mail and the “Collateral Murder” video that Manning now acknowledges giving to WikiLeaks as a matter of conscience were, of course, highly illuminating to students of real history. And the e-mails (and State Department cables) also were rather unflattering regarding the aims of U.S. policy and military actions around the globe.

So how did the White House, the State Department and military brass respond? There was a strongly felt need to make an object lesson of Bradley Manning to show what happens to people whose conscience prompts them to expose deceit and serious wrongdoing, especially through official documents that can’t be denied or spun.

In Manning’s case, he was delivered to the Marines, famous for their hard-headed determination to follow orders and to get the job done. So, his jailers took Manning’s clothes away and made him stand naked, supposedly out of concern that otherwise he might be “a risk to himself.” To further “protect” him, he was kept in a 23-hour lockdown in a tiny cell.

The treatment of Manning at Quantico was too much for State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, a 26-year Air Force veteran and former colonel. Crowley was of the old school on the treatment of prisoners; his father, a B-17 pilot spent two years in a German POW camp.

On March 10, 2011, Crowley went public, telling an audience that Manning was being “mistreated” by the Defense Department; Crowley branded Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Three days later, Crowley resigned with this parting shot: “The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.”

At Ft. Meade, the pre-trial hearings are continuing, including testimony about how the advice of health professionals regarding Manning was disregarded by the Marine officers and his jailers at Quantico. Later this week, Manning himself is expected to take the stand.

Again, the fair and orderly manner in which Tuesday’s hearing was conducted was a reassuring sign that not everyone is prepared to cave before “command influence.” The judge, Col. Denise Lind, upon whom all depends, listened attentively and asked several good questions at the end.

Let’s hope the kangaroos can be kept at bay.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early 60s, and then served for 27 years as a CIA analyst.  He also serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

18 comments for “The Humiliation of Bradley Manning

  1. Frances in California
    November 29, 2012 at 16:36

    Rehmat, Israel didn’t train us; we trained them.

  2. paschn
    November 29, 2012 at 11:23

    With few exceptions, the majority of the comments here do nothing more than reveal how arrogant/ignorant the bulk of AmeriKans are. Your constitution is being used as toilet tissue, your employment base has been gutted, your religeons twisted and warped beyond any semblance of a coterie to a benevolent god, your masters in government continue to pass laws which, while depriving you and your spawn of any dignity or means of basic support, lavish your oppressors and THEIR masters in New York/Tel Aviv/City of London with OBSCENE wealth. You allow more than 50,000 of your “beloved” fellow citizens to die annually for the crime of not having the money to pay for healthcare which has been repeatedly graded as poor to pathetic, police forces trained by the fifth column,(terrorist),nation of Israel in the “art” of dealing with “terrorists”, your intelligence agencies have been handed to dual passport Israeli’s who order them to release their fellows to safety while they torture/crucify/murder fellow citizens with the courage and honor to TRULY TRY to protect their nation from all enemies foreign and DOMESTIC and all you can come up with in response, (basically), is who’s in the play-offs, your favorite “reality” program or “evil Muslims” but “refuse to believe” that your leaders have sold you out and handed your sovereignty to the Synogogue. At this point, I’d like to thank you for the comic relief ringing in the demise of your country and the beginnings of your own version of Russia’s hell on earth.

    Wipe your chins, mute the t.v. and try your best to identify the parallels found in the above link to what is at this moment occurring in AmeriKa. Reading most of your comments makes me wonder how the bulk of you manage to feed yourselves, find the toilet, dress yourselves, keep a motor vehicle between the lines on the highway to a job that pays less and less while shredding your constitutionally guaranteed rights. Thanks again.

  3. God Bless America!
    November 29, 2012 at 00:59

    It strikes me as very sad that the Ft. Hood Muslim, TERRIORIST, MD who murdered 13 men and women and wonded so many others is more then likely being treated more HONORABLY!

    • Frances in California
      November 29, 2012 at 16:38

      Wrong, GBA! Ft. Hood was a prime example of fragging . . . but it didn’t happen high up enough.

  4. Debbie
    November 28, 2012 at 21:23

    Bradley Manning is a hero. All those who claim to treasure American freedoms should be screaming in the streets to free him.

    • lifelonghuman
      November 29, 2012 at 15:16

      He’s a petulant little snit who’s lucky he’s not given a life term. He knew exactly what he was doing. I hope he rots in prison.

    November 28, 2012 at 21:15

    I dont see how this is cruel or unusual he’s living au natural no sheets or pillows camping no clothes? Meh put on a show toughin up buttercup

    • paschn
      November 29, 2012 at 22:31

      While some can see and take part in evil/atrocities even after they find out they’ve been lied into the slaughter of humans, destruction of the planet, raping, pillaging etc, there are others that find it morally and legally, (international law), reprehensible. The former use the guise of “defending our nation” to commit their pathological evil, the latter find it hard to cope with and either expose the former or blow out their brains. The former “heroes” are the type that will fire upon their own fellow citizens then joke about it sitting around the fire, burn women and children alive within the borders of their own country, (Ludlow, CO.), fire on veterans demonstrating and demmanding money they were promised and not given, (“bonus” army), kill miners striking for livable wages, payment in U.S. currency, not corporate “scrip”, decent work week to allow them time to raise their children not to become the former… Those who rape, murder, destroy while using the guise of being one of “our boys” are the ones who upon slithering home become cops or politicians, (McCain), which allows them to pass unconstitutional laws, vetoe needed veteran aid, continue shitting on the constitution by tazing, clubbing, gasing their fellow citizens into submission while running interference for the other filth ruining this country. The latter have the courage to speak the truth and hope their fellow citizens can correct it rather than make snide moronic remarks and help walk this country over the cliff it’s so very near to. Get it….Milkweed?

  6. Jym Allyn
    November 28, 2012 at 19:32

    I was taught at OCS at Fort Benning in 1971 that it was illegal to obey an illegal order. This was following the My Lai massacre. It is partly why I have so much respect for the US military.
    I was also taught that torture is done not to provide useful information, but for the ego and benefit of the torturer.
    Abusing Manning may make the Bushites and military thugs feel better, but it is counter-productive and likely provides justification for Manning getting a Medal of Freedom Award rather than jail time.
    Ironically, because of the lies that created the 2003 Iraq invasion, Manning’s courage and actions have likely saved American lives.

    • F. G. Sanford
      November 28, 2012 at 19:51

      I was taught the same thing. And I was taught that by U. S. Marines. In my day, there was a little book we had to practically memorize. It was called, “The Basic Knowledge”. Mistreatment of prisoners was forbidden in explicit terms, as I recall. Times have certainly changed.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    November 28, 2012 at 19:15

    And all this while the doctrine of “Spiritual Fitness” was being hypocritically promulgated by a leader who had never himself tasted combat, and the Medical Department responsible for the mental health of American Soldiers was conducting “Resiliency Training”, a thinly veiled program of moral brainwashing. And somehow, there are experts scratching their heads and wondering, in the face of the most reprehensible moral contradictions to which American Soldiers have ever been exposed, “Why are they committing suicide?” Actually, plenty of us have tried to answer that question, but they’re not having any part of the answer. Certainly not when the “perks” of maintaining the charade are so enticing, i.e. Broadwell, Kelley, et al. Despicable. Utterly despicable.

  8. Otto Schiff
    November 28, 2012 at 19:02

    I have seen this kind of behavior in Nazi Germany.
    Where is this country going?

    • Frances in California
      November 29, 2012 at 16:34

      Otto, see that Handbasket? Be very worried.

  9. Eileen
    November 28, 2012 at 18:53

    I dont understand. We attacked Iraq to free the people from Sadam. What did this have to do with 9/11? And then we treat the citizens of Iraq as enemies, when WE invaded their country. Why were we torturing the Iraqi citizens? They were not our enemy. Our enemy was in Afghanistan where the perpetrators were hiding. And now we are attacking and torturing our own people. What kind of country have we become!

  10. rosemerry
    November 28, 2012 at 18:29

    The USA is allowed to attack any country at any time and do any terrible thing it chooses to any person. However, it pretends to care if someone bravely exposes its wrongdoings, claiming that “someone may have been endangered by his actions” (though they never were, in this case). What hypocrisy. FREE BRADLEY MANNING. He is a hero like Daniel Ellsberg, who is free.

  11. Hillary
    November 28, 2012 at 18:15

    It has been reported that Manning has been kept for months in “total isolation” 23 hours a day.

    He sleeps much of the day ,is not allowed a pillow or sheets.

    Conditions under which Manning has been detained were once recognized in the U.S. and are still recognized in many Western nations as not only cruel and inhumane, but torture.

    All this despite the fact he has not been tried.

    So it goes in the U.S.A where the military may lock you up and torture you for months without end with no due process.

    This is not what America is supposed to be about. We’re not supposed to support torture.

    Isn’t whistleblowing suposed to be encouraged & whistle blowers protected ?

    Pvt.Manning has been locked up and tortured without a trial or conviction.

    The U.S. Government and military are torturing a UNITED STATES CITIZEN.

  12. Nick Lary
    November 28, 2012 at 18:02

    Have I missed something? I thought President Bush said that the United States does not practice torture.

    • Adolphine
      December 1, 2012 at 20:37

      No disrespect, but you actually believed Bush and his administration? Or was that sacasm?

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