06 April 2011

Canadians show compassion in straw poll on Bradley Manning

Whether you think Bradley Manning is a good guy or a bad guy will depend to a large extent on your political persuasion, those on the left opting for the former and those on the right for the latter. Manning is the American GI accused of providing WikiLeaks with classified information. But whether what he is accused of was right or wrong, he deserves to be treated humanely. The U.S. military now stands accused itself, specifically of violating humane standards by subjecting Manning to unconscionable abuse.

They are accused of keeping him in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day; stripping him naked each night and giving him a suicide-proof smock to wear to bed; forcing him to answer a call every five minutes; not allowing him to sleep between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. and forcing him to stand or sit up if he tries; requiring him to be visible at all times, including at night; allowing him only one blanket and one book or magazine in his cell; and not allowing him any contact with other prisoners even during the hour he is allowed out of his cell. All of this—which some would call torture—to a man who has never been convicted of a crime.

In reporting the story, the CBC ran a straw poll asking Canadians if they thought Manning is being treated fairly. To the respondents credit, and my relief, the response was 15 per cent yes and 82 per cent no. Straw votes, being hopelessly unscientific, don't mean much of course, but 82 to 15 seems significant.

And what is my response to the question? Of course I think his treatment is unfair, indeed far worse than unfair. Furthermore, I think that if he did what he is accused of, he did the right thing. Caught in a war based on lies, he made a decision at least as moral as the decision to start the war in the first place. He may have violated the oath he took when he joined the military, but when his commander-in-chief lies to him and he is forced to witness evil generated by that lie, one might argue he no longer owes that oath any loyalty. If he is in prison, justice would demand the liar, George W. Bush, sit in the next cell.

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