Monday, December 20, 2010

Bradley Manning's solitary confinement

For those of you who don't know, Bradley Manning is the private accused of releasing secrete information to Julian Assange that was recently leaked to the press via wikileaks.

I posted the following links on facebook recently:

Glenn Greenwald's critique of the way the US Marine corp is treating Bradley Manning.

I'm not a big fan of Glenn Greenwald, he's not on my blog roll. He's been a pretty big critic of the Obama administration and the way he's continued Bush's war on terror. Its hard to disagree with Greenwald on most of his charges actually, but I'm just not a regular reader.

But here are two people who are on my blogroll who agree with Greenwald on this issue:

Megan McArdle.

"The way our society treats prisoners is shocking, and to me, frankly un-American. Extended solitary confinement, prison rape--we tolerate things that we would never allow if we thought there was any chance that they might happen to us. But since prisoners come from a different social class, and are often members of a racial minority, we ignore it. In fact, we joke about it. America wouldn't treat stray dogs the way it treats the millions of human beings it has incarcerated. This is not just a problem for them, though it is, horrifically so. It turns us into torturers and rapists, because we are the ones who pay for the system, and implicitly endorse its terrorizing prisoners."

Matthew Yglesias:

"But Manning hasn’t had a trial and hasn’t been convicted. Somewhat punitive post-arrest pre-trial measures are kind of a necessary evil, but the prolonged confinement of Manning under cruel conditions go well beyond the necessary into the straightforward evil."

I am a big fan of Atul Gawande who wrote this about solitary confinement which is an article practically impossible to pull out a single quote from. You must read the entire thing to appreciate the horrors of solitary confinement, but he clearly makes the case that solitary confinement is torture.

Posting these links on facebook led to a pretty lengthy discussion that I won't repeat here, but I think the main defense of Manning's treatment is that Manning is a really, really bad person and basically deserves what he gets. That the information he leaked has caused countless lives and real suffering in the world. Leaking this information is not a far cry from actually directly enabling suicide bombers, assisting in the sex trafficking trade, and directly killing American soldiers who are working in secret in the most dangerous places on earth because what he leaked seriously damaged the US military's ability to take down these secret networks and put American soldiers lives at risk. I won't dispute in a direct way any of this although it hardly answers the question why is solitary confinement necessary.

But, it leads me to a larger thought. Is what we're doing the best way to limit or end sex trafficking? Suicide bombers? Terrorists?

There's no doubt in my mind the US military has a key role to play in challenging the modern threats that exist in the world today. There's also no doubt that the US military and other military's around the world need to protect the information they have to keep their soldiers safe and to protect us more effectively.

But there are real limitations to what the military can accomplish in this regard. We are no longer facing a Cold War scenario where our most serious dangers consist of opposing world powers and the key to winning is based on how much more intelligence we have compared with to our enemies.

The world is much more messy now than it used to be. Information is now much more difficult to protect and its also becoming less relevant.

Terrorism, the sex and drug trades, suicide bombers. These are all symptoms of poverty and chaos. These are regions of the world where governments barely exist, where the economy barely functions, and people are marginalized because they lack opportunity, education, and access to functioning commerce. The power in these environments lie in secrete underground organizations - drug cartels, mafia organizations, and terrorists.

I'm not sure how or if it's even possible to eliminate these threats, but it seems in order to minimize them, we need more transparency, more trust in our institutions from those most effected by these horrors.

We also need to enable trade, build schools, and open borders. Allow people access to education wherever they can get it. And then do our best to build schools closer to where they live. If not in Afghanistan then in Pakistan or in Jordan or in Iraq.

The key in my mind is not more bombs and guns, it is more schools, more commerce, more free trade (not perfectly so), more open borders (not completely open). Allowing more people opportunity and in my mind giving them a greater chance to limit what ails the world than bombs and guns could do.

It seems to me that we need to build the trust and strong relationships with those who live in these regions. Keeping secrets may, in the end, hinder our ability to do this.

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