From the beginning of the Bradley Manning show trial, it has been apparent that the state is the criminal, not Pfc. Manning. Yet the WikiLeaks whistleblower was just sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Manning is being punished for exposing government crimes, most famously U.S. troops shooting innocent civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in the Collateral Murder video. Manning’s disclosures also shed light on what McClatchy Newspapers called “evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence.” The outrage caused by exposure of this brutal war crime helped end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
After Manning exposed these and countless other government crimes, the perpetrators should have been held accountable. They were not. Instead, the state engaged in a series of crimes against Private Manning.
Perhaps the most heinous of these crimes is torture. The accused whistleblower was held in solitary confinement for months on end before the trial. UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez conducted a 14-month investigation into this abusive detention. Mendez explained his findings to the Guardian as follows:
I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.
Mendez is not alone in considering long term solitary confinement torture. For example, John McCain has written that solitary “crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.”
So why was Manning tortured for months on end before trial? Some observers, such as civil rights attorney Michael Ratner, speculate that the military tortured Manning in order to pressure the whistleblower to testify against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Torturing a whistleblower in order to implicate a journalistic organization is despicable.
But there’s another likely motive behind the torture: Manning’s gender identity. According to a recent article in Jacobin:
Manning was tortured in part because he signed a few letters from the brig as “Breanna Elizabeth.” Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis defended his cruelty in a December pre-trial hearing. Coombs asked why the marine thought Manning’s gender dysphoria should factor into his “prevention of Injury” status. Blenis answered because “that’s not normal, sir.”
So the torture of Pfc. Manning was not just a crime, but a hate crime. This is what the state thinks of transgender people, that it is okay to torture them because they are “not normal.”
This kind of torture happens in cages across the United States. Transgender people are disproportionately incarcerated in this country. When they are caged, they are often housed based on their birth assigned sex, not their gender identity. This placement, particularly of trans women in men’s prisons, subjects them to harassment, bigotry, abuse, and rape. In response to these risks, they are often placed in solitary for their “protection.” The United States government tortures transgender inmates for who they are, and Pfc. Manning is one victim of this institutionalized hate crime.
And for the next 35 years the state will cage Pfc. Manning and likely continue to inflict torture and abuse on the whistleblower. Meanwhile, the war criminals and torturers this hero exposed will go unpunished. This is what the state’s “justice” system does. It uses brutal force against those who expose powerful criminals, thus insulating said criminals from accountability.
This is a great article explaining why the state needs to be held accountable for their actions, yet I still feel Manning deserved jail time. He didn't deserve 35 years, nor did he deserve the torture leading up to his trial, but he recklessly handed over thousands of classified documents to journalists that he didn't read.