Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army private who was imprisoned for giving thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, was recently threatened with torture for supposedly violating the conditions of her detention.
As yet, the charges have not been officially verified. But Manning, who since her conviction has transitioned to female and been hired by The Guardian as a columnist, read the charges to one of her supporters, who posted them online. They are unbelievably petty. She is charged with: 1) sassing a guard; 2) spilling food on the floor; 3) possessing some books and magazines, including the Catilyn Jenner Vanity Fair issue; and 4) possessing an expired tube of toothpaste. There is to be a hearing on Aug. 18.
This is exactly the kind of trumped-up nonsense a pissed-off bureaucrat out for revenge would come up with. And as punishment, she apparently faces unlimited torture, in the form of "indefinite solitary confinement."
Whatever one's opinion of Manning, this is yet another demonstration of the hypocrisy and utter moral bankruptcy of the American security apparatus.
The question of whether Manning is a noble political dissident or Betrayer of the Troops is by now played out — though it remains a useful window into the true ideology of the supposedly neutral press. Firmly centrist mainstream media types will refer to her "treason" as a known fact without blinking an eye, despite the fact that she was acquitted on the charge of aiding the enemy (and even the military couldn't find any concrete harm caused by the leaks). Even one of her own colleagues at The Guardian, Ben Jacobs, mocked her potential torture, tweeting, "And the world's tiniest violin plays a sad song." (He quickly deleted it.)
At any rate, the punishment question is already settled. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, the longest anyone has ever gotten for leaking classified documents. There's the possibility of parole at eight years, but given the vindictiveness of the government's behavior so far, that's unlikely. Moreover, she already suffered years of imprisonment before trial, nine months of which were in solitary confinement.
Contrast that with the treatment of David Petraeus, the former general and CIA chief, who leaked codeword-classified files to his biographer and lover, stored them in a totally unsecured location (his desk), and then lied about it to the FBI. Remember, these files were classified above Top Secret, while nothing Manning leaked was above Secret. What happened to him? After dozens of heavy-hitting elites wrote a letter to the sentencing judge begging for mercy — including former Sen. Joe Lieberman; Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham; and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — Petraeus got a piddling two years probation.
A just legal system would treat lawbreaking identically, regardless of the wealth and power of the accused. Barring that, a just system might at least attempt to compensate for elites' greater power by ensuring quality defense for poor people, vigorous prosecution of the really egregious elite criminals, and professionally operated jails and prisons.
But in the United States, our justice system has fallen into open hypocrisy, where the rich and well-connected get a quick slap on the wrist and a free taxi home, but the poor or low-status get pummeled with almost sadistic cruelty.
It is simply beyond dispute that punishment is meted out in cases like this according to the social status of the defendant. Mike Mullen, a retired Navy admiral and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made this plea for leniency for Petraeus to the judge: "Dave is also humanly flawed, as many are, for which he has paid a huge price both personally and professionally."
Yet that Manning, too, is a flawed human being, that she has endured previous punishment, and that she has years of incarceration still ahead of her, are not enough to save her from threats of officially administered torture for having some toothpaste and a magazine in her prison cell. It's sick.