Another week passes and another bizarre story emerges concerning the case of alleged traitor Pfc Bradley Manning, currently a long term guest of the United States Marines at the Quantico brig. This time it seems that feathers are being ruffled over a report that Manning is being forced to strip naked during sleeping hours and for morning muster.
The Brig has stripped PFC Manning of all of his clothing for the past three nights, and they intend to continue this practice indefinitely. Each night, Brig guards force PFC Manning to relinquish all of his clothing. He then lies in a cold jail cell naked until the following morning, when he is required to endure the humiliation of standing naked at attention for the morning roll call. According to Marine spokesperson, First Lieutenant Brian Villiard, the decision to strip him naked every night is for PFC Manning’s own protection. Villiard stated that it would be “inappropriate” to explain what prompted these actions “because to discuss the details would be a violation of PFC Manning’s privacy.”
Even my friend Doug Mataconis, an attorney and one of the more sane voices on the web, raised questions about the propriety of this treatment.
If he’s convicted of these charges, he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. While he’s awaiting trial, though, and even after he’s convicted, he still must be treated humanely and, at present, Manning is receiving worse treatment than a Prisoner Of War would, and the only purpose behind it seems to be to break him psychologically. That’s simply unacceptable.
So what was the mysterious course of events that led to this decision to strip Manning down each night? It’s provided, ironically enough, by one of his biggest cheerleaders at Fire Dog Lake.
In response to PFC Manning’s question, he was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm. PFC Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were “absurd” and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.
Mystery solved. Jane Hamsher excuses Manning’s “sarcastic” remark as justifiable given his frustration at being kept under special watch to ensure he doesn’t harm himself. (Not a surprise, since she and Glenn Greenwald would probably find a way to laud his actions even if he – or Julian Assange – were found feeding kittens into a wood chipper.) But in the military we had a different way to describe something like that. It’s known as mouthing off or being a smartass. And doing so to your superiors is generally not a wise move under the best of circumstances, say nothing of when you’re in the hoosegow on charges which equate to treason.
But can this treatment really be justified? There are two points to address on this front.
First and most simply put, Manning made the comment about being able to kill himself with his underwear, sarcastic or not. Can you imagine what would be said if the brig commander did nothing and then he actually did turn up dead in his cell by his own waistband? It would be a movable feast for the media and several careers would come to an abrupt end. How does the commander ignore something like that?
The second point is a bit more complicated and far less clear, and one that we’ve touched on here in the past. It boils down to some of the fundamental differences between civilian society and the military community. Just as civilians, used to all their freedoms of free speech, etc. don’t understand the restrictions on military personnel, those familiar with the civilian justice system are frequently shocked by many of the “unofficial” aspects of the U.C.M.J. Lots of things like this go on all the time in the military, or at least they used to back in the day. But normally you don’t have the civilian press watching and reporting on it.
Does that make it right? I leave that to the judgment of the reader.
Also, life in the military in general is just a bit more physical and harsh than in the civilian world. A lot of things happen which would probably shock many of you who have never served. In the Navy, for example, there is an old tradition of an initiation rite of passage the first time a sailor crosses the equator on a war ship. It is the time when you graduate from being a “pollywog” (or just “wog” for short) to being a “shellback.” Trust me, it’s an ordeal, usually lasting 24 hours or more.
The third time I made the passage, two enlisted men wound up in sick bay with broken arms. Everyone got to experience the joys of crawling through plastic chutes filled with garbage, rotting food and bilge water, all the while being “herded” by shellbacks wielding foot long lengths of fire hose, loving called, “shillelaghs.” (During my own initiation it took more than a week before the bruises finally faded.) And this is all for your friends who have done nothing wrong.
I’ll leave it for one of the veteran submarine sailors to tell you about the grand old tradition of having your dolphins “tacked on” if they wish to do so in comments.
So I suppose our final question is, does any of this make it acceptable for Manning to be treated in this fashion, either to cover the brig commander’s butt or for the sake of teaching a lesson to somebody mouthing off to their superiors? I really don’t know. Maybe we do need to shine a light on this and review military procedures, both official and “under the covers.” But I do know that life in the military community is a lot different than in the civilian world, and having lived it for a number of years myself, this story honestly didn’t shock me at all.
(The author would like to apologize in advance to friends, family and readers for the title of this column. What can I say? The devil made me do it.)
Now you can yell at Jazz for being a stupid, wrong-headed RINO even faster than by leaving a comment. Follow him on Twitter! @JazzShaw