Bradley Manning, Hero & Martyr

The Polemicist

by Michael House

LONDON England—(Weekly Hubris)—3/21/11—I would call the punishing of a suspected criminal before he has even had a trial, un-American—if that expression still had any meaning today. It is certainly barbaric.

So vindictive is the Department of Defense towards Bradley Manning that he is being ritually humiliated daily by his captors.

The American military has a track record of using nakedness to destroy the morale of prisoners it especially hates—it was used extensively in Iraq, in paricular in Abu Ghraib.

But, of course, that was against terrorist towel-heads—now it is being used against a brave young American soldier.

Bradley Manning is 23, with joint US-British citizenship. He enlisted in the army in 2007. He was working in Iraq as an army intelligence analyst when arrested last May. He has been charged with delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source (Wikileaks). Among his lesser sins is to have been active in the gay rights movement and to have posted on his Facebook page that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron.

Manning appears to have taken too literally the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

He is accused of leaking more than 90,000 secret military documents and diplomatic cables (that the government would prefer the public not to know the contents of) to a whistle-blower website. He has also been charged with aiding the enemy, a charge theoretically punishable by death.

Quantico, Virginia rally in support of Bradley Manning
Quantico, Virginia rally in support of Bradley Manning

Manning is currently held at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia. He was put on suicide watch in January—clearly the authorities don’t want him to cheat them of their revenge. This involved, among other measures, taking his prescription glasses away from him so he “was forced to sit in essential blindness.” He is kept in his cell 23 hours a day and checked on every five minutes. There is no basis for any belief that he is suicidal. A psychiatric assessment stated that he was “low risk . . . no need for . . . closer clinical observation.”

He has written an eleven-page letter, released by his lawyer, describing his treatment. Since 2 March, he has been stripped naked every night and, in the morning, forced to parade in the nude before guards and officers. This cruel and unusual punishment is apparently justified by a sarcastic comment he made to a senior officer about his harsh conditions of incarceration. Told he was considered at risk of self-harm, he said that if he had wanted to harm himself, he could have done so with the elastic of his underwear. Subsequently, he lay naked in his cold cell until morning. Each morning, he was forced to stand at “parade rest” (i.e. not allowed to use his hands to cover his genitals) for three minutes, while being “inspected.”  He was then eventually allowed to get dressed.

After outside pressure, he is now allowed to wear a coarse and uncomfortable “smock” at night.

In his letter, Manning describes the regime as “clearly punitive in nature,” adding “there is no mental health justification for the decision. It is unlawful pre-trial punishment.”

At night, he is frequently wakened. He is not permitted a pillow or sheets. He is allowed no personal items in his 6 X 12 windowless cell. He is not permitted to exercise in his cell. He is allowed one book or magazine at a time, which is removed at night. His hour’s exercise in every 24 consists of “walking figures of eight in an empty room” in shackles.  He is shackled for every visit.

Bradley Manning says he is not suicidal, but the regimen he is under seems designed to make him so.

Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg has described the regimen as “no-touch torture,” designed to demoralize Manning so that he will implicate Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

A State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, told an audience at MIT that the treatment of Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” The State Department said Crowley was expressing a “personal opinion.”

President Obama, asked at a press conference about the procedures concerning Manning’s detention, said he had asked the Pentagon whether the procedures were appropriate, and the Pentagon had said (wait for it . . .) that the procedures were appropriate. (I’ll bet that surprised you. It apparently didn’t surprise Mr. “Yes, We Can.”)

A United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and Amnesty International have both asked the US government to justify its treatment of Manning. Replies are awaited.

This courageous young man should be supported in every way possible. I quote the words of Noam Chomsky:

“It is a privilege to join the campaign to support Bradley Manning for his courage and integrity in serving his country by helping make the government accountable to its citizens, and to inform the world of what its people should know.”

The Bradley Manning Support Network was formed to raise money for Manning’s defense. Its patrons include Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Moore, a former CIA analyst and a retired army colonel. Over $100,000 has been donated.

Bradley Manning has British citizenship. The British government has done nothing to support him.

President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, could stop the torture of Bradley Manning in the blinking of an eye. I hope all US citizens among you will contact the White House, your Senators and your Representatives, and let them know how strongly you feel for the international reputation of your country, trashed by Bush and put at risk again by Obama.

It’s a while since I had a pop at Christianity, but I have a craving today, so here goes.

I’m going to tell you a fairy story. It is a beautiful story, just like Snow White or Cinderella, but equally fictitious.

Once upon a time, about 4,004 years ago, there lived in a country park called the Garden of Eden, a young couple named Adam and Eve. One day, they ate an apple that they had been forbidden to eat. The Wizard in the Sky who supervised their activities called this an Original Sin. He (She, or It) expelled them from the garden.

All children born after that on the earth were the descendents of Adam and Eve. And they were all born with Original Sin. They didn’t have to do anything. Being born was enough.

About 2,000 years later, the Wizard in the Sky decided that the Original Sin business was unsatisfactory. So, He (She, or It) came up with a neat wheeze. He would send his son to earth to be tortured by Adam and Eve’s descendents. By being nailed alive to a cross, the son would take upon himself all the sins of humankind, past, present and future, so no more sinful babies would be born.

The Wizard contemplated how to send his son to earth. Then he hit on a scheme. He would find a young woman who, although married, was a virgin (good luck with that). He would then send one of his archangels to earth to give her a good seeing to. The resulting child would be his son. (Quite how that would work has kept theologians in gainful employment for centuries.)

He lighted on a young Palestinian woman called Mary. She was married to a carpenter called Joseph. Why she was a virgin is unclear. Was Joseph gay? Was it an arranged marriage? Was Mary what modern youth unkindly calls a “dog”?

The other curious feature is how Mary explained her pregnancy to Joseph. Did he believe her when she told him she hadn’t been playing away from home? Didn’t he care? Or did he accept that archangels were entitled to exercise some form of droit de seigneur over young women? But we mustn’t analyze fairy stories too closely, lest we destroy the magic.

Anyway, Jesus was born. Thirty-three years later, he was put to death. He was buried. Three days later, the Wizard suspended the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, Jesus came back to life and they all lived happily ever after.


Michael House, FRGS was born, of rural, peasant stock, in Somerset, England. He read law at Exeter College, Oxford and was elected President of the Oxford Union. In 1974, along with five colleagues, House started up a set of barristers' chambers in three little rooms in Lincoln's Inn, London, specializing in human rights and in representing the poor and dispossessed. The set now comprises 170 members and occupies a 17th-century building that was home to the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated (Spencer Perceval, 1812). In 1987, depressed by Mrs. Thatcher's third election victory, House fled to Greece for three years, where he was published in The Athenian and The Southeastern Review. He also there met his archaeologist wife, Diane. The pair returned to England in 1990 after a half-year, round-the-world trip, and settled in London and Northamptonshire. Since then, by way of escape from humdrum criminality, House has traveled in Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Ladakh, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Mongolia, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka, where only the stout walls of Galle Fort saved him and his spouse from being swept away by the tsunami. House returns to Greece, his second home, almost every year. He has written for, inter alia, History Today, the Universities Quarterly, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Rough Guide to Greece. House practices criminal defense law from Garden Court Chambers, Lincoln's Inn Fields, in London, and hopes that if he keeps on practicing, he may eventually get the hang of it. His yet unachieved ambitions are: to farm alpacas; see Tibet liberated from the Chinese jackboot; and live to see Britain a socialist republic. (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)


  • Michael House

    Breaking news. Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman who dared to say what every decent person thinks, has been forced to resign.

    And 35 protesters outside the Marine Corps base where Bradley Manning is being held have been arrested. They were next to a banner reading “Caution: Whistleblower Torture Zone.” So not only is Manning denied free speech, his supporters are as well. Way to go, USA!

  • Michael House

    Update, 12th April.
    More than 250 of America’s most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting at the treatment of Bradley Manning.
    Prominent among the signers is Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe, who taught Obama constitutional law and was until recently a legal adviser to the justice department.
    The letter, published in the New York Review of Books, says of Obama:
    “He was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency.”