March 05, 2011

Kingdom of Evil

A human being can be destroyed in a seemingly infinite number of ways, as history repeatedly demonstrates. Our capacity for cruelty is limitless. It would appear to defy gratification. We are all too familiar with the horrifying varieties of physical violence inflicted on the human body, but there is another method of seeking to destroy those whom we have designated as enemies to our own survival. In one critical respect, this method is worse than injuries that might be visited on our fragile corporeal form, for while the body may survive intact, the person -- that is, his mind and soul -- will never be made whole again.

This method of destruction throws the victim into a nightmare world, one which mocks every effort to comprehend it. Cruelty is presented as compassion and solicitude for the victim's well-being; the words of justification seek to convince those who suffer that their unbearable pain should be accepted for their own good. The victim knows that every utterance of his tormentors is a lie, and the more he attempts to understand why they act so monstrously, the greater his suffering grows. The victim can never escape these lacerating questions:

How is it possible that human beings could treat another person in this manner?

How can I survive in a world in which such cruelties not only occur with soul-destroying regularity, but in which these cruelties are considered necessary and moral?

If the victim should conclude that he cannot survive in such a world -- and how can we be surprised that this should be his judgment? -- his soul will be lost. Even if his body continues to function, he will survive in a world rendered eternally bleak, with terror lurking in every moment. The possibility of joy is extinguished.

This is evil; those who seek to impose this fate on a human being are engaged in evil of an especially monstrous kind.

Read this New York Times story about the latest cruelties inflicted on Bradley Manning, and you will see the operation of these mechanisms. We must remember that Manning is, as the Times story states in its first sentence, the "accused." As of this date, Manning has been tried for nothing. As of this date, Manning has been convicted of nothing.

The story informs us that Manning "will be stripped of his clothing every night as a 'precautionary measure' to prevent him from injuring himself," and that he "will also be required to stand outside his cell naked during a morning inspection." A Marine spokesman says that "the underwear was taken away from him as a precaution to ensure that he did not injure himself."

But as the story goes on to tell us, Manning "has not been elevated to the more restrictive 'suicide watch' conditions." The same Marine spokesman also says that "the new rule on clothing ... would continue indefinitely," and that "he was not allowed to explain what prompted it 'because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.'”

Thus, according to this spokesman, Manning is subjected to repeated humiliation and degradation -- for his own good. Moreover, the reason for the repeated humiliation and degradation cannot be provided because of the military's boundless concern for Manning's "privacy" -- that is, the military also refuses to explain the reason for its cruelty for Manning's own good.

Does the nightmare begin to assume more definite shape before you? If you feel assaulted in the depths of your being by this mere recitation of the facts -- and you should -- you are experiencing but the faintest shadow of what Manning experiences in captivity. Manning is, I remind you, only the "accused."

Manning's lawyer, David E. Coombs, tries to cut through this enveloping fog of evil:
“There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning,” he wrote. “This treatment is even more degrading considering that Pfc. Manning is being monitored — both by direct observation and by video — at all times.”

Mr. Coombs contended that stripping his client was medically unjustified.

“If a person is at risk of self-harm, then you get them treatment, you get them to a mental health professional and address the issue — you don’t strip them,” he said, adding in a separate telephone interview, “There is no excuse, no justification to having a soldier stand at attention naked. There can be no mental health reason for that.”
Coombs characterized these latest punitive measures "as an unjustified 'humiliation' of his client." I would add two comments to that description.

First, forcing a prisoner to remain naked for extended periods of time is not only a barbaric means of humiliating and degrading him: it necessarily includes a very significant element of specifically sexual humiliation and degradation. Add to this unforgivable atrocity the well-known fact that Manning is gay. Especially in the hypermasculinized world of the military, such sexual humiliation and degradation represents an intentional, additional cruelty. I can only say that the U.S. government and the military of which it is so proud put Torquemada to shame.

Second, these cruelties and the purported "justifications" offered by the military, all in a notably high profile case, definitively put the lie to the propaganda spewed by the U.S. government in response to the torture, including sexual humiliation, revealed at Abu Ghraib: that such incidents were an "aberration" perpetrated by a few "bad apples." (I emphasize that similar torture and humiliation occurred in other locations as well; Abu Ghraib is probably the best-known instance.) They also definitively put the lie to Obama's patently false claim that he has "ended torture," a point I have made repeatedly.

Now we have the U.S. military, with the full support of the U.S. government, openly engaging in repeated acts of cruelty, atrocity, humiliation and degradation -- acts which the military proclaims will "continue indefinitely" -- and offering nauseatingly ludicrous justifications which would not convince a minimally healthy ten-year-old child. No honest observer can regard these actions of the U.S. government and its military as "aberrations": these actions are brazenly offered as U.S. government policy.

These actions also constitute torture. I first offered this description of torture in December 2005, and I stand by it today:
Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason.
(Descriptions of the articles in my series, "On Torture," will be found here.)

I therefore repeat what I said above:

This is evil; those who seek to impose this fate on a human being are engaged in evil of an especially monstrous kind.

This is also the U.S. government and its military. Mark it well.


Several additional issues require further commentary. In particular: we must beware falling into the trap of selective outrage. The horrifying case of Bradley Manning is an especially high profile one, but he is hardly the only victim of even this particular form of the U.S. government's monstrousness. And the cruelties visited upon Manning -- a man who, I emphasize again, has not yet been tried and convicted of even a single crime -- necessarily raise this question: What is the source of the rage which the U.S. government directs at this man? The answer will not be found in most of the commentary on this awful case.

I will turn to these subjects next time.