"We must adhere to our values as diligently as we protect our safety with no exceptions...I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals."So spoke President-elect Barack Obama in January of 2009 when asked if his administration would continue the inhumane detention policies that defined the previous administration's 'War on Terror.' Two years later, President Obama is receiving a virtual free pass on one of his administration's greatest on-going moral failures: the continued sanction of practices amounting to torture by the US military. Despite President Obama's executive orders recommending the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, banning the use of torture as an interrogation technique, and ordering the closure of clandestine CIA-administered interrogation facilities around the world, the Obama administration has roundly failed both in its moral duty to condemn the use of these practices under the previous administration, and to eliminate the present use of these practices by the US military.
This realization is profoundly jarring and disappointing, particularly for progressives, many of whom view the legacy of the Bush Administration as inextricably bound with "extraordinary rendition" tactics and the haunting images from Abu Ghraib, and who hoped that President Obama would usher in an era of renewed commitment to the maintenance of human rights and civil liberties. And yet the fact of the matter is, despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a mere nine months into his presidency, President Obama has not done nearly enough to rectify our years of immoral and inhumane detention and interrogation practices under the Bush Administration.
In Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo Bay, and in clandestine facilities across eastern Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, the core values of our society were repudiated again and again in the most brutal fashion, drowned out by the screams of captives considered by our government to be beyond the protection of domestic and international humanitarian law. Not only has President Obama failed to morally repudiate - much less bring criminal charges against - administration officials responsible for these atrocities, but many of the same techniques employed in those prisons - extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, and humiliation through forced nudity - are still in use today, and are currently being used against Private First Class Bradley Manning at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, VA.
Pfc Manning is accused, but not convicted, of leaking classified information to Wikileaks, including a controversial video of a US helicopter firing on civilians in Iraq, military dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan, and approximately 250,000 diplomatic cables. In a terrific piece up on Huffington Post this week, author Barton Kunstler raises some important questions about how Pfc Manning's treatment reflects on the moral state of a nation still stained by the horrific excesses of the Bush era, and how the continuation of the practices being employed against Pfc Manning reflect on President Obama as both the Commander in Chief of the US armed forces and the ostensible moral leader of this country. From Kunstler's article:
Does a conscientious stand against the violence of war deserve the treatment to which Private Manning has been subjected? Should anyone -- whether convicted or not, whatever their crime -- be tortured by the very institutions that exist to protect not only our individual rights, but the very ideas of liberty and law? And doesn't the army's use of torture and severe judicial proceedings debase the military authorities who vent their fury in the ugliest way possible on one of their own, and undermine the legitimacy of the military as the protective instrument of the nation?The answers to these questions can only be a resounding no, no, and absolutely yes. The treatment of Pfc Manning absolutely erodes the moral legitimacy of the US military and its highest commanding officer, President Barack Obama, and may be in direct violation of domestic and international law. In a recent statement, Rep. Dennis Kucinich raised the possibility that Pfc Manning's treatment violates not only Manning's constitutional rights (in particular the 8th Amendment's prohibition against 'cruel and unusual punishment'), but of international law as well. From Rep. Kucinich's statement:
"Officials have confirmed the ‘non-punitive’ stripping of an American soldier who has not been found guilty of any crime. This ‘non-punitive’ action would be considered a violation of the Army Field Manual if used in an interrogation overseas. The justification for and purpose of this action certainly raises questions of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and could constitute a potential violation of international law.We join Dr. Kunstler in asking how long President Obama can willfully ignore the inhumane treatment of Pfc Manning and still maintain any legitimacy as a moral leader of this country. President Obama, have the courage to hearken to the convictions that you yourself espoused. The treatment of Pfc Manning is not just a test of law, but of morality as well, and as long as you continue to turn a blind eye to the incredible abuses being perpetrated against him and other incarcerated persons, it is a test that we can only and inevitably fail.
The Army Field Manual, 2-22.3 (FM 34-52): Human Intelligence Collector Operations, Page 5-21, section 5-75 clearly states that: ‘If used in conjunction with intelligence interrogations, prohibited actions include, but are not limited to- Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.’"