Vindictive Passions and Bradley Manning
There have been more heinous abuses by the national security state the past four years. Assassination as a foreign policy, assassination of American citizens without due (or any) process, drone warfare in numerous countries without the courtesy of even informing Congress (although legally required), weekly “kill list” meetings, and assorted war crimes would probably top the list. But for the kind of malicious arrogance (the type normally engaged in by tyrants only), you should look at the treatment of Bradley Manning. Here’s a recount of the first part of today’s testimony.
Now keep in mind that what Manning is being accused of disclosing is the video of a war crime and various documents which no less an authority than our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the consequences of disclosure would be “fairly modest.”
Nevertheless, this Administration, presided over by the civilian leadership headed by a former Constitutional Law Professor and Nobel Peace Laureate, subjected Manning, not as punishment, for he has yet to be convicted of anything, but merely as pre-trail detention, to such things as being caged in an 8′ x 8′ x 8′ cage in a desert with inhuman heat in a tent. But it wasn’t simply the gross deprivation of human rights that this Administration inflicted on its tremendous 22 year old enemy. What defines the insidiousness of the violations is how petty they largely were and how detailed the pettiness. Tyrannies are able to employ many tools to think about petty torture. It’s one of their hallmarks. It’s what they take pride in.
Two hundred years ago another icon of American liberalism, Thomas Jefferson, embarked on a bizarre treason prosecution of his former Vice President, Aaron Burr. Among the peculiar features of the Jefferson attempt to execute Burr was that his chief witness, General James Wilkerson, was someone, who, if the supposed conspiracy actually existed, was more centrally culpable than Burr himself. Nevertheless Wilkerson would continue in the Army not only through Jefferson’s term but through the term of his protege, James Madison.
Burr did not suffer either the indignity nor the torture inflicted on Manning. No, in those days, we had not had learned how to attack the spirit of a defendant. It would never have occurred to any of the politicians of the day, all of whom, if nothing else, were confirmed Whigs. But even the great Virginian civil libertarian Jefferson, was not above abusing the criminal system for political ends. In fact, John Marshall, who presided over the trial (as circuit judge, even Supreme Court Justices rode circuit in those days, and Marshall, U.S. Chief Justice, rode circuit in Virginia), noted that the proceedings seemed to have been motivated by “vindictive passions.”
The current chief executive hardly earned more trust of a Republic than Jefferson to act outside of rules for the treatment of political enemies. But he’s who we have. And he is not embarrassed to employ shocking abuses of precedent and human rights.
Sit back, my fellow citizens, so we can see if the proverb is right. If so, we know what he that troubleth his own house can expect to inherit.