Our top-down strategies can’t fix our problems, whether they be homelessness, joblessness, environmental devastation, faltering health care, failing schools, AIDS, or discrimination. They can’t be solved simply by giving orders or by applying new technologies. They’re complex and interrelated; they touch us all. Solutions therefore depend on widening the circle of problem solvers (Lappé, 2006, p. 9).
I've been writing Bradley Manning lately, the young man imprisoned in the Marine Corps brig at Quantico in Virginia, charged with leaking files to Wikileaks.There are now stories that he is being mistreated, even possibly tortured. Yesterday I got a letter with the return address of the "COMMANDING OFFICER [all caps in the original]. The three-page document, the first two pages of which are a copy of what was given to "Detainee Manning, Bradley," explains in detail that my postcard was being rejected because I'm not on his "mail and visitation list." It finishes with his decision not to appeal this rejection, and Manning's signature below a checked statement:
Furthermore, I choose not to add this person to my mail and visitation list, thereby refusing all incoming correspondence from this individual.
If the stories and allegations about Manning are true, and they appear to be in the instance of his release to Wikileaks of many files, including the ones of filmed war crimes, he has blown the whistle on the military and should be afforded all protection, not imprisonment. There are laws about protecting whistleblowers, right?
Ironically, those laws seem to only cover those whistleblowers who use inside channels, official forms, and this protects the offending federal agency from the public oversight it hates so much. Woe to whistleblowers who shine the light of the "free press" on the wrongdoing. Now the military is seen by the world for what it is: a violent occupying force that guns down civilians in cold blood, literally laughing at its bloody deeds and blaming the victims.
The way that decisionmaking works in a democracy is that we choose who can make the top-down decisions, we elect our representatives. If we don't like a policy we have options:
- elect a different official
- lobby the elected official
- work to change the policy by bringing civil society pressure to bear
- expose the policy to the public, inviting discourse
- ask for negotiations to amend the policy
So, there are layers of authority involved in the question of Bradley Manning's treatment. There is the GySgt William Fuller, who seems to handle his mail. There is the unnamed "COMMANDING OFFICER" and there are ascending officers in the chain of command, all the way through the military to the Joint Chiefs and then to the civilian Commander-in-Chief, President Obama. With regard to torture, all these layers are also superceded, by law, by the international laws to which the US has signed and ratified, including basic Geneva, Hague, and Nuremberg Conventions, Accords, and Treaties. All apply, all are the Supreme Law of the land, and all are enshrined in the actual rules of the various branches of the armed forces. Viewing just a tiny fraction of what Manning is alleged to have done reveals a prima facie case that he is uncovering serious violations of these rules and laws.
The threats and actions against Bradley Manning are also against our democracy. Civil society is beginning to respond. I can report that, as a former inmate, getting lots of mail that was rejected for one arbitrary reason or another was a very positive thing. My experience was also for directly confronting the military but I was never a member of any military organization and never held in a military prison, so perhaps Manning is having a different experience in all ways, but until I learn better, I am going to regard the Amnesty International principles as valid, which they certainly were in my case. The nature and amount of my abuse and arbitrary mistreatment by the prison system lessened as the volume of supportive mail grew. I was certainly out of my cell much more often, and even when I was in solitary confinement the respect with which I was treated slowly grew as the mail volume increased. When guards and wardens know that the outside world cares about an inmate they seem to adhere to a bit better standard of treatment and they understand that they might be themselves held a bit accountable.
Turns out that the unnamed brig commander is:
Quantico Brig Commanding Officer
CWO4 James Averhart
3247 Elrod Avenue, Quantico VA 22134
So, now I have someone to whom I can write to press for better treatment for Manning and I hope Averhart is deluged with mail.
I also have my next postcard addressed to Manning:
3247 Elrod Av
Quantico VA 22134
and I hope you will consider writing him too. He just turned 23, he's been in Quantico since July, and needs to know that more of us believe he did the right thing. More mail, even when it's rejected, is a real back-straightener for those who are apparently powerless, shackled and ordered around. We are the threads to freedom for Manning and if all of us are involved in some way, his time of freedom is that much closer. As Lappé notes, we are all stakeholders and problem-solvers in a strong democracy. The guns and steel doors and concrete walls of military brigs are not the strength, we are, if we act.
Lappé, Frances Moore (2006), Democracy’s edge: Choosing to save our country by bringing democracy to life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.