[Ppnews] Manning's Torture Commonplace In U.S. Prisons

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January 26, 2011

Manning's Torture Commonplace In U.S. Prisons

By Sherwood Ross

The corrosive, solitary confinement being inflicted upon PFC Bradley 
Manning in the Quantico, Va., brig is no exceptional torture devised 
exclusively for him. Across the length and breadth of the Great 
American Prison State, the world's largest, with its 2.4-million 
captives stuffed into 5,000 overcrowded lock-ups, some 25,000 other 
inmates are suffering a like fate of sadistic isolation in so-called 
supermax prisons, where they are being systematically reduced to 
veritable human vegetables.

To destroy Manning as a human being, the Pentagon for the past seven 
months has barred him from exercising in his cell, and to inhibit his 
sleep denies him a pillow and sheet and allows him only a scratchy 
blanket, according to Heather Brooke of "Common Dreams" ( January 26 
th .) He is awakened each day at five a.m. and may not sleep until 8 
p.m. The lights of his cell are always on and he is harassed every 
five minutes by guards who ask him if he is okay and to which he must 
respond verbally. Stalin's goons called this sort of endless torture 
the "conveyor belt."

Not surprisingly, Manning is attracting global attention to the 
Pentagon's sadism. If anyone did not believe the Pentagon's ruthless 
treatment of Iraqi prisoners when the Abu Ghraib torture photos were 
released, they believe it now that it is torturing one of its own. In 
this assault upon the body and mind of a 23-year-old American 
soldier, all of the Pentagon's arrogance and clumsiness is revealed 
to the world. Perhaps not even the French military---when its 
frame-up on treason charges of Jewish Colonel Alfred Dreyfus was 
exposed---attracted to itself the global searchlights of opprobrium 
now bathing the walls of the Marine Corps brig at Quantico.

The kind of isolation torture Manning is enduring in recent years has 
spread itself quietly throughout U.S. correctional facilities like a 
deadly gangrene. According to one reliable report, by 2003 between 
five and eight percent of the prison populations of Arizona, 
Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, and 
Virginia were rotting in isolation. In some federal prisons the cells 
are referred to euphemistically as "Communications Management Units" 
and are, incidentally, "disproportionately inhabited by Muslim 
prisoners," according to an American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) law 
suit challenging them. In another suit, the ACLU has accused the 
Texas Youth Commission of "throwing children (girls) into cold, bare 
solitary confinement cells..." and told the TYC bluntly its "reliance 
on solitary confinement has to stop."

Dr. Stuart Grassian, a veteran of 25 years on the faculty of Harvard 
Medical School, wrote in a law school journal of his interviews with 
prisoners in solitary. He said almost a third of them experienced 
impaired brain function. They "described hearing voices, often in 
whispers, often saying frightening things to them." In an article 
published in "The Long Term View" magazine of the Massachusetts 
School of Law at Andover, Grassian wrote that about a third succumbed 
to "acute psychotic, confusional states" in which they saw objects 
"becoming larger and smaller, seeming to 'melt' or change form." And 
this was only one of the syndromes experienced.

In a related article published in the same issue (Volume 7, No. 2), 
Dr. Atul Gawande of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, cited the 
findings of psychology professor Craig Haney of the University of 
California at Santa Cruz on isolation's impact. Some inmates in the 
Pelican Bay supermax, Haney found, even after just months of 
isolation, suffered "Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and 
despair often result...In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop 
behaving, becoming essentially catatonic." This, of course, is what 
the Pentagon apparently seeks to inflict on Manning. In June, 2006, 
the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons recommended 
ending long-term isolation of prisoners but the so-called "House of 
War" wasn't listening.

In the 2008 presidential race, Gawande wrote, both Obama and McCain 
came out firmly for banning torture and closing Guantanamo Bay prison 
where hundreds have been held in years-long isolation, yet neither 
"addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is 
torture." McCain spent two of his five years as a POW in Viet Nam in 
solitary, later stating: "It's an awful thing, solitary. It crushes 
your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any 
other form of mistreatment."

The U.S. willingness to hold prisoners in isolation for years "made 
it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar 
treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America's 
moral stature in the world," Gawande wrote, adding, "In much the same 
way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized 
segregation, our (generation) has countenanced legalized torture. And 
there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of 
solitary confinement---on our own people, in our own communities, in 
a supermax prison..."

" This conduct (solitary confinement) by the U.S. Federal and State 
governments constitutes torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading 
treatment in violation of the Convention Against Torture and the 
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which 
are treaties to which the United States is a contracting party," says 
international legal authority Francis Boyle, professor of the subject 
at the University of Illinois, Champaign.

Boyle believes, "As citizens of America and human beings in the 
world, we must do all in our power to terminate such illegal and 
criminal practices that are daily perpetrated by our own governmental 
institutions in our name against our fellow citizens and human 
beings." Boyle is the author of "Defending Civil Resistance Under 
International Law"(Amazon).

Those supporting Manning need to recognize he is an icon for the 
bizarre, systemic destruction of tens of thousands of other human 
beings locked away in perpetual silence by their tormentors, often 
for mere infractions of prison rules, without the review of any judge 
or jury. As the ACLU told the TYC, this must be stopped. What action 
will you take in your community to put an end to it?#

(Sherwood Ross is a Florida-based public relations consultant for 
good causes and director of the Anti-War News Service. Disclosure: he 
was editor of "The Long-Term View magazine cited in this article and 
is a media consultant to the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.)

Author's Bio: Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago 
Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. 
He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on 
WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public 
relations director for a major civil rights organization.

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