Occam’s Razor Can Explain Bradley Manning's Treatment


       The fact remains that after nearly a year of incarceration without trial, the government has given no reason for continuing imposition of its exceedingly restrictive prevention of injury watch on Bradley Manning, the suspected Wikileaks leaker.  Many wanted to believe the comforting original justifications for this type of detention, which were given to explain the severity of the conditions.  Unfortunately, as the various explanations have been held up to the light, they were found to be clearly faulty and were easily disproven.  After seeing various rationales and benign explanations go up in smoke, those who have been interested in the government’s motivation are forced to remember the reality that “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”  Over the past several months readers have seen arguments that the conditions were simply an assessment, customary, or calibrated to promote Manning’s health go by the wayside. 

       A quote from Manning himself is very telling.  “I asked the Brig Operations Officer, MSG Papakie, what I needed to do in order to be downgraded from Maximum Custody and POI Status. MSG Papakie responded by telling me that there was nothing I could do to downgrade my detainee status”.   David Coombs, Bradley Manning’s Description of Abusive Treatment at Quantico, http://publicintelligence.net/bradley-mannings-description-of-abusive-treatment-at-quantico/, (2011).Originally, when Manning was first detained, there were theories that the government was attempting to make an assessment regarding whether or not Manning was suicidal.  Notably, when an individual is officially designated as suicidal they are placed on what is known as a suicide watch, which requires the recommendation of a mental health professional at a military brig like the one in Quantico, VA.  Notably, the prevention of injury watch is generally used for assessment purposes.  Prevention of injury watch is an intermediary stage during which the government decides whether an individual should be placed on suicide watch or whether they can handle less restrictive conditions.  Notably, this stage generally lasts about two weeks.  Manning has been held in this condition for nearly a year.  Additionally, there is one crucial element necessary for the theory that Manning is merely being “assessed” to have any legitimacy.  This element is that of actual assessment.  The government must have some fact to assess if it wants to make an assessment.  An approach such as saying there is “nothing” you can do that will remove you from the watch betrays the fact that no conditions are being assessed and that there are not conditions even being watched for, as “nothing” can lead to the removal from the watch.

       Another justification given for the repressive conditions is that they are customary and they are commonly applied procedures.  Except they’re not. While this rationale may be asserted, and it may be comforting to hear, its easily disproven.  A prominent constitutional lawyer, Glenn Greenwald, observed recently that to “ describe those statements as ‘misleading’ is to be extremely generous.” He stated further that Manning “was the only detainee being held under those conditions, the exact opposite of what Morrell told the public.” Glenn Greenwald, The serial deceit of Geoff Morrell,http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/03/04/morrell/index.html (2011).  Additionally, though the above article disproves the “treated like everyone else” theory, it is also helpful to read a summary written by Manning’s lawyer David E. Coombs which lays out about 30 major ways that Manning’s treatment is more restrictive than the typical detainee’s.  David E. Coombs, PFC Bradley Manning Is Not Being Treated Like Every Other Detainee, http://www.countercurrents.org/coombs270111.htm (2011). 

       What listing of government assurances would be complete without the time tested “well its for his own good” assertion.  Manning, who is being subjected to solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, shackling, forced drugging, sensory deprivation, and isolation would likely disagree with the measures solely being good for him or as being designed to make him less suicidal.  Certainly expert Terry A. Kupers disagrees and says in a recent CNN article that the “problem with the argument that Manning is being kept in long-term solitary confinement to prevent his suicide is that long-term solitary confinement causes suicide.” Terry Kupers, Cruel and Unusual Treatment of WikiLeaks Suspect, http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-16/opinion/kupers.bradley.manning.prison_1_solitary-confinement-prisoners-mental-illness?_s=PM:OPINION (2011).  President Obama has unfortunately bought into the government’s rationalization stating recently that a number of the repressive measures being taken in regard to Manning were for his own good.  To ask someone to believe that this is the only underlying reason for the conditions is to ask one to believe an absurdity.  As these conditions are actually not mandated as a custom, requirement, or procedure its fairly clear that the government is free in many areas to use its best judgment as to how to treat Manning as indeed it has throughout his incarceration.  This leads to the disturbing realization that you need to believe the impossible or the highly improbable in order to believe the benign explanations given. 

       You are asked to believe that complete isolation is an absolute health necessity, even though Manning has never been deemed a suicide risk.  That it is only for Manning’s “own good” that he is awoken and repositioned every night when he unconsciously rolls over at night, even though his actions are observed 24 hours by video camera.  You are asked to believe that forcing Manning to stand at attention naked every morning is somehow for his own good, even as the government is unable to even assert a plausible justification for this.  Further you are required to believe that Manning is forced day after day to never relax, study, think deeply, or even nap because he is interrupted every five minutes for “inspection” where Manning must physically signal to a guard that he’s “okay”, even though no system nearly this disrupting is imposed on any other prisoner.  Even though, given Manning’s waking hours this amounts to 180 inspections a day, 1260 a week, and 50,400 inspections since he arrived, you are asked to believe that this is not an attempt to produce the very insanity the government claims to be guarding against.

       Theoretically all of these justifications might prove to be true.  However, most people are hopefully somewhat familiar with a principle know as Occam’s Razor.  This is the idea that when two seemingly equally valid hypothesis are held up side by side, more often than not the simpler of the two proves to be correct.  So, theoretically, it may be possible that the government is performing benign procedures that are so transcendentally beneficial, so incomprehensively helpful, and outstandingly necessary that they have a benefit impossible to describe to the unwashed mind of a non-military observer.  However, more likely than not, a spade is simply a spade, and the government is committing abuse in the case of this detainee.  Draw whatever conclusion seems more plausible, of course.

      It is also interesting that the government has attempted to assert that this treatment is mandated by the specific legal doctrine which governs the military. This is interesting because the cases United States v. Crawford, 62 M.J. 411 and United States v. Inong, 58 M.J. 460, landmark military detainee rights cases, both stand for the principle that the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits both (1) the intentional imposition of punishment on an accused before his or her guilt is established at trial and (2) pretrial confinement conditions that are more rigorous than necessary to ensure the accused’s presence at trial.  Hopefully it is possible to realize that both of these prohibited activities are clearly occurring in this case.  Further, although its not always fun to use the above Sherlockian method to get at the truth of what’s really happening, especially in this case, the clear advantage is that you do get to see what’s really going on.  That truth, in this case, is that the United States is engaged in treatment that many observers, including scholars from the most highly regarded Universities in this country have decried as violative of the Geneva Conventions, the eighth amendment, and the very Uniform Code of Military Justice that is cited as the basis here for each and every government action that has been taken.  In fact the spokesman for the Obama administration’s Department of State recently went on record as decrying the conditions in this case.  It is clear, according to both the actual letter of the law and common sense, that the only action consistent with the governing principles of this nation is for this punitive pre-trial punishment to stop.  

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