The Passion of Chelsea Manning



“As this fine and important study reports, [Chelsea] Manning holds to the principle that ‘it’s important that the public should know what its government is doing.’ Release of the WikiLeaks documents has been a courageous and important service to this cause. Those who regard democracy as a value to be cherished should agree with the author that Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and that [her] atrocious treatment by the authorities should be harshly condemned, and ended.” —Noam Chomsky on The Passion of Chelsea Manning

The Passion of Chelsea Manning reminds us that it was James Madison himself who wrote that a popular government without popular information is but a prelude to tragedy or farce. Author and lawyer Chase Madar tells a great story that raises critical questions about the appropriate balance of government secrecy and national security in a modern democracy.” —Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union

“The mistreatment, trial, and fate of Private [Chelsea] Manning will undoubtedly read like an obituary on the Obama years. [Her] case is a crucial one. Essayist and lawyer Chase Madar turned his sharp eye on it early. His will be the single must-read book on the case.” —Tom Engelhardt,

“Chase Madar has written a powerful, compelling and moving defense of [Chelsea] Manning. He shines a spotlight on government secrecy, duplicity and human rights abuses, and how one young [woman] (allegedly) sought to let the US people know the truth about what the government was doing in their name. Bravo!” —Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

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About the Book

In May 2010, an intelligence analyst in the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division was arrested on suspicion of leaking nearly half a million classified government documents, including the infamous “Collateral Murder” gunsight video and 260,000 State Department cables.

Who is Private Chelsea Manning? Why did she allegedly commit the largest security breach in American history—and why was it so easy? Is Manning a traitor or a whistleblower? Is long-term isolation an outrage to American values—or the new norm? Are the leaks revolutionary or a sensational nonevent? Which is the greater security threat, routinized elite secrecy or flashes of transparency? And what impact does new information really have?

The astonishing leaks attributed to Chelsea Manning are viewed from many angles, from Tunisia to Guantánamo Bay, from Foggy Bottom to Baghdad to small-town Oklahoma. Around the world, the eloquent alleged act of one young woman obliges citizens to ask themselves if they have the right to know what their government is doing.

Publication April 2012 • 190 pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-935928-53-9 • E-book ISBN 978-1-935928-54-6

About the Author

Chase Madar is a civil rights attorney in New York. He writes for the London Review of Books, Le Monde diplomatique, The American Conservative (where he is a contributing editor), CounterPunch and TomDispatch. He tweets at @ChMadar.

In the Media

Waging Nonviolence, August 10th 2013

Al Jazeera English, September 5th 2012

The American Conservative, March 15th 2013

Russia Today, July 17th 2012

Morning Star, July 4th 2012

London Review of Books, July 2012

Citizen Soldier, June 2012

Prism, June 26th 2012

History News Network, May 10th 2012

Counter Punch, May 6th 2012

Bradley Manning Support Network, May 4th 2012

The North, May 3rd 2012

Mondoweiss, April 25th 2012

Al Jazeera, April 25th 2012

Firedoglake, April 21st 2012

The New Inquiry, April 11th 2012, April 3rd 2012

Al Jazeera, March 9th 2012

RT America, February 23rd 2012

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 5

No feature of the Manning affair has been more controversial than the young soldier’s nine months under strict solitary confinement at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. Even the State Department’s top spokesperson, a mouthpiece of perfect blandness, lost his job after a spontaneous eruption damning Manning’s treatment, and foreign governments have brought pressure to bear, sending pointed letters of concern to Washington.

Adrian Lamo, shortly after informing on Manning, assured an audience of hackers and digital activists in New York that his dupe would be treated decently; after all, “We don’t torture our own citizens.” Lamo was apparently trying to distinguish Manning’s likely treatment from that endured by hundreds of captured foreigners in the course of our Global War on Terror, or GWOT, as it was known in-house during the Bush-Cheney Administration.

Lamo’s reassurance, rooted perhaps in guilt-ridden wishfulness, has proven grotesquely wrong. Twenty-three hours of solitary a day; a ban even on push-ups and sit-ups in the cell; the confiscation even of reading glasses; enforced nudity at night; the unrelenting repetitive mental stress of having to respond every five waking minutes to the guards’ query, “Are you OK?” If this were done to a US soldier held captive in North Korea or Iran, no American pundit would hesitate to call this torture. How could this treatment not drive anyone mad?

Being alone in a small cell for years or even months does a body great harm. Not surprisingly, medical research into the effects of solitary confinement finds that the treatment inflicts lasting severe damage. “Solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric and sometimes physiological effects on many prison inmates,” writes Dr. Peter Scharff Smith, head of research at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. “A long list of possible symptoms from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity has been documented.” The suicide rate for isolated inmates, according to another psychiatric expert on mental health in prisons, is substantially higher than among those living communally in prison.

In the footsteps of medical science, international law is ever less hesitant to classify solitary confinement as torture. The European Court of Human Rights has allowed the practice in the case of Kurdish terrorist Abdullah Öcalan, but after finding a marked mental deterioration in that prisoner recommended that the Turkish government integrate him into a communal setting. The United States has ratified the international Convention Against Torture, whose acting body, the Committee Against Torture, has recommended that longterm solitary be wholly abolished. The German Bundestag’s human rights committee was not breaking new ground when it condemned Manning’s treatment as torture.

It is certainly tempting to see the isolation torture of Bradley Manning as toxic spillover from the Global War on Terror. What else could explain an advanced industrial democracy thus abusing one of its own citizens? There is undoubtedly some truth to this story—that after a decade, the “excesses” of the War on Terror have seeped into our domestic justice systems. Yet this account is, by itself, incomplete. In fact this narrative is perhaps undeservedly reassuring. For this story assumes that our domestic criminal justice system was already uncontaminated, and had hitherto run smoothly and fairly, at least more or less. This narrative of corruption assumes that Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo are flagrant offenses against “American values,” vivid exceptions to our legal and penal norms. It assumes that nine months pretrial detention in solitary confinement is simply unheard-of in the United States. In short, this story assumes the legalized torture of Bradley Manning to be exceptional, an atrocity. We must reject these assumptions: they are wrong both in their particulars and in their overall image of America’s justice system.

The roots of Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantánamo and the isolation torture of Bradley Manning are so close to home that we have trouble seeing them. Many of us would like to think that all of this is a colossal and shameful exception to our laws and customs. But the sensational GWOT atrocities that have scandalized the world for the past decade are at base a simple extension of our everyday “normal” way of doing criminal justice. To be sure, the GWOT’s use of torture has been more programmatic, and the locales more exotic, but on the whole these headline-making scandals have been far less aberrant than we like to think. From Guantánamo to the treatment of Bradley Manning, most of our supposedly out-of-character response to 9/11 has in fact been less exception than the rule. On the whole, the GWOT has been all-American. This is a strong statement, demanding evidence beyond the scope of the Bradley Manning case. The argument is best bolstered by a brief and unpleasant visit to Guantánamo, the iconic “legal black hole” whose essential normality within the American legal-penal galaxy is more disturbing still. I visited Guantánamo in April-May of 2010, where a member of our international press gaggle let it slip that she didn’t much care for the place. “This,” she confided to the group, “is the worst place I have ever visited in my entire career.” Many of us made similar judgments over the course of our visit.

It’s not hard to see why so many of us felt this way: we were covering pretrial hearings for the trial of Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured at age 15 after a firefight with US forces outside Kabul in 2002, tortured and interrogated for a few months at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, then transported to Guantánamo to await trial before a military commission, charged with five “war crimes.” (The scare-quotes are necessary as four of the charges were freshly invented for the occasion, and are not recognized as war crimes in any other court.) In October later that year, Khadr would take a deal pleading guilty to all charges, leaving him with one more year at Gitmo–to be spent in solitary–and then a likely transfer to Canada for a remaining seven years of either prison or supervised release.

Aside from Khadr and about 130 other prisoners who may one day see a trial, Guantánamo still holds some 45 more War on Terror prisoners who will be “detained” indefinitely without being tried at all. This is one of the radical policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that is now cheerfully defended by the human rights grandees in Barack Obama’s State Department.

Gitmo and all other places without habeas corpus rights are indeed dismal places—and there is certainly something striking about the first conviction of a child soldier since World War II. All the same, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison from the most notorious prison in the world to homegrown US federal prisons, like the one in Terre Haute, Indiana (whose maximum security wing was copied down to the smallest detail at Gitmo’s Camp 5), or even a run-of-the-mill overcrowded state penitentiary, the kind you pass on the highway without even noticing, or one of the crumbling youth detention facilities in New York State which are thoroughly hellish.

Such prisons may lack the exotic setting of Gitmo’s Camp Delta, but they are not incomparable. A great many of America’s domestic prisons also routinely abuse inmates; are unable or unwilling to prevent inmate rape; inflict long-term solitary confinement, which does at least as much physiological damage as waterboarding; and in actual practice operate beyond most notions of the rule of law. Confessions, true or false, obtained through violence and threats, aren’t restricted to Guantánamo either. They are not all that hard to find in our fifty states. And for the rest of our prison system, where is the outraged international press gaggle? Why are no British “law lords” calling the federal supermax in Florence, Colorado, a “legal black hole” as Lord Johan Steyn termed Guantánamo?

Alas, in so many ways Guantánamo is not the exception but far closer to the rule of our criminal justice system. To be sure, taking a child soldier you’ve captured in a foreign land, whose interrogation entailed stringing him up half-naked in a five-foot-square cell with wrists chained to the bars at eye level and a hood clamped tightly over his face, then prosecuting him for “murder” because he allegedly tossed a grenade on a foreign battlefield, does present some legal issues that don’t ordinarily come up in Spokane or Chillicothe.

….During my visit to Guantánamo, the press corps gasped when Khadr’s “Interrogator Number One,” Joshua Claus, described the veiled threats of rape he wielded at Bagram Prison to try to break the young prisoner. If Khadr should fail to cooperate, Claus told him, he would meet the same fate as another young (and imaginary) Afghan detainee who was supposedly sent to a US penitentiary and raped to death in a shower room by “neo-Nazis, and four big black guys.” Claus, a court-martialed detainee abuser, had been the leader of the final interrogation of a mistakenly imprisoned Afghan taxi driver who was beaten to death by American guards at Bagram in 2002. Before receiving a light sentence in the case, Claus pledged his full cooperation with the Khadr prosecution, and he kept his part of the bargain with visible enthusiasm.

As it happens, Claus’s veiled threats of rape and violence to a minor would not have been so uncommon in domestic interrogation rooms. “From the stories I’m familiar with, threats like that are a pretty garden-variety police interrogation tactic,” says Locke Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University. With youths, it’s not that much of a challenge to get a false confession, even without the threat of or actual physical violence being brought to bear, as the case of Marty Tankleff in Long Island shows, not to mention the seven and eight-year-old boys from the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago who, in the summer of 1998, “confessed” to murdering a girl for her bicycle. Even after DNA evidence from semen found on the corpse was matched to an adult serial sex offender, the Chicago Police Superintendent at first refused to exonerate them. The State’s Attorney might well have prosecuted the boys, too, if the entire South Side of Chicago hadn’t threatened to explode.

As for routinized prison abuse, Bagram and Abu Ghraib have regularly been described as one-off aberrations, but the origins of such brutality are not hard to spot in our treatment of prisoners at home. This continuity is personified by Charles Graner, the ringleader of the Abu Ghraib torture. Prior to his deployment, he had worked as a guard at maximum-security State Correctional Institute-Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania, itself subject to a major prisoner-abuse scandal in the late 1990s which got several guards fired, though not Graner.

The fact is, the abuse and/or torture of prisoners, though far from systematic, is not all that uncommon in many American prisons. What came out in the Abu Ghraib photos is, according to the (increasingly busy) United States program of Human Rights Watch, not so different from the abuse and brutality of many of our own stateside lock-ups. In New York, for instance, a state task force convened by Governor David Paterson in 2008 deemed the entire youth detention system “broken.” The official report found that guards throughout the system regularly used “excessive force” on youth inmates, sometimes breaking bones and shattering teeth. And prison abuse here at home can be just as fatal as at Bagram. In New York, an emotionally disturbed fifteen-year-old died in 2006 after corrections officers pinned him face down on the ground. (Remember, at Bagram the interrogators tried to make young Khadr talk by threatening to send him to an American prison, which they apparently considered at least as threatening as anything Afghanistan had to offer.)

This is not lost on lawyers representing Gitmo detainees. “I might well advise a client to take ten years in the communal wing of Guantánamo over three years in solitary at the supermax in Florence,” says Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Attorney Joshua Dratel, who took part in the very successful defense of Gitmo detainee David Hicks, told me that he thought the worst American-run prison is not Guantánamo’s Camp Delta, but rather the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan. And yet, somewhat mysteriously, American intellectuals are more likely to know about the brutality of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bradley Manning’s nine months in Quantico than the fatal abuse and abysmal prison conditions in their own state.

The punitive confinement of Bradley Manning, far from being an anomaly, has been consistent with American laws and customs. Why should this obvious truth be so difficult to admit? Andrew Napolitano, the former judge and steadfastly libertarian television personality, denounced the Obama Administration’s treatment of Manning as “KGB tactics,” and one can hardly disagree. But the epithet, connoting a radically un-American foreignness, is surely misplaced. The torture of Bradley Manning has been wholly in the American grain.

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