One of my favorite bands, Fiddlers’ Sons from Prince Edward Island.
December 26th, 2010
One of my favorite bands, Fiddlers’ Sons from Prince Edward Island.
December 26th, 2010
Psychologist Jeff Kaye discusses the soul-crushing effects of isolation and solitary confinement that are being meted out to alleged Wikileaks leaker Bradley Manning even before conviction. To get a sense of what Kaye is referring to, watch this interview with David House, one of a few people who have met with Manning in detention [h/t Firedoglake.]:
Bradley Manning and the Torture That Is Solitary Confinement
By Jeff Kaye
Solitary confinement will slowly wear down the mental and physical condition of Bradley Manning, held in 23-hour isolation in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Quantico, Virginia, the same facility that held John Hinckley, Jr. That is my assessment after talking to David House last weekend. House is the only person, besides Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, who sees the prisoner regularly since he was locked up at the Quanitco brig in what the Department of Defense calls “maximum custody” conditions.
Manning was arrested last May for his alleged role in downloading videos and documentary files for transfer to the muckraking Internet site, Wikileaks. The “maximum custody” conditions include a Prevention of Injury (POI) order which, according to House, “limits his social contact, news consumption, ability to exercise, and places restrictions on his ability to sleep.” As Glenn Greenwald noted last week, the brig regimen is essentially that of a Supermax prison. They are also similar to the “Special Administrative Measures” or SAMs imposed on Syed Fahad Hashmi the Bush administration, renewed by Attorney General Holder under President Obama, which kept Hashmi is kept in 23-hour lockdown and isolation before trial for three years.
Indeed, the conditions of solitary confinement are so onerous it led the International Committee of the Red Cross in a 2004 report to state, in regards to the CIA’s detention of so-called high-value detainees, that “strict solitary confinement in cells devoid of sunlight for nearly 23 hours a day constituted a serious violation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.” While Bradley Manning is not being held as an “enemy combatant,” the conditions under which he is being held are redolent of the torture inflicted upon U.S. “war on terror” detainees, or suffered under the terms of the military’s Army Field Manual Appendix M, where such detainees are held in conditions of isolation, including significant limitations on sleep and certain forms of overt sensory deprivation.
The deleterious effects of solitary confinement have been copiously documented. A literature review on the subject, and an excellent discussion of the effects of isolation can be found in a 2003 article by psychology expert Craig Haney.
Solitary confinement is an assault on the body and psyche of an individual. It deprives him of species-specific forms of physical, sensory and social interaction with the environment and other human beings. Manning reported last weekend he had not seen sunlight in four weeks, nor does he interact with other people but a few hours on the weekend. The human nervous system needs a certain amount of sensory and social stimulation to retain normal brain functioning. The effects of this deprivation on individuals varies, and some people are affected more severely or quickly, while others hold out longer against the boredom and daily grind of dullness that never seems to end.
Over time, isolation produces a particular well-known syndrome which is akin to that of an organic brain disorder, or delirium. The list of possible effects upon a person is quite long, and can include an inability to tolerate ordinary stimuli, sleep and appetite disturbances, primitive forms of thinking and aggressive ruminations, perceptual distortions and hallucinations, agitation, panic attacks, claustrophobia, feelings of loss of control, rage, paranoia, memory loss, lack of concentration, generalized body pain, EEG abnormalities, depression, suicidal ideation and random, self-destructive behavior.
In fact, while the Defense Department claims that “maximum custody” and POI are meant to protectBradley Manning from harm, or mitigate possible agitated or aggressive behavior by the prisoner, the very conditions they have placed him under are known to break down individuals and bring about the very kinds of aggressive behavior the POI orders are supposed to prevent. Indeed, it appears the government wants to impress upon Manning its immense power, and induce in the prisoner a feelings of utter futility and helpless dependence.
A number of courts have found solitary confinement to be unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. According to a report by Physicians for Human Rights (PDF, bold emphasis added):
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas… found solitary confinement to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment and even called it tantamount to torture. In a case concerning the prison system in Texas, the court found that inmates in administrative segregation “suffer actual psychological harm from their almost total deprivation of human contact, mental stimulus, personal property and human dignity…. The wounds and resulting scars, while less tangible, are no less painful and permanent when they are inflicted on the human psyche.” (Ruiz v. Johnson. 37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 913. S.D. Tex. 1999)
What are the effects of isolation on Bradley Manning?
Having experience with assessing the response of individuals held in abusive conditions, or even torture, in my capacity of having conducted forensic psychological evaluations for ten years on asylum applicants, and having spoken to David House, I have been considering Manning’s situation and the effects upon his likely mental and emotional status. While an accurate assessment of a person would mean direct access to them, and the application of psychometrically valid psychological instruments, experience allows me to make some general statements.
From what can be ascertained, the effects of solitary confinement are having some effects already on Bradley Manning. His concentration and thinking processes appear somewhat slowed. He avoids certain topics. He has little access to humor. His color is pale, and his musculature is starting to look soft and flabby. It is unknown what stress Manning had prior to his arrest, but if one can believe the published logs between Manning and Adrian Lamo, he suffered from some amounts of stress in the military.
From a number of accounts, Manning appears to be trying to adapt as well as he can. Those people do best in isolation who are able to draw upon deep reservoirs of inner meaning and commitment, and Bradley Manning seems to be that kind of individual. But no human being is impervious to the degradations of isolation.
Manning is not suicidal, though it appears he has trouble sleeping due to various mild to moderate impediments (no pillow, uncomfortable “suicide” blanket, low-level light in the room during sleep hours, being woken up if he sleeps in certain positions that impede the guard’s observation). This is not traditional sleep deprivation, but seems meant to make him uncomfortable and keep him from getting a restful sleep. However, he has asked for and received sleep medications. He has not been forced, either, to take any medication against his will. He has not been subjected to overt sensory deprivation techniques, although isolation itself is a form of sensory and social deprivation.
The brig officials do not appear to be practicing environmental manipulations of temperature, or diet, though Manning felt the cell was a little too cold at times when he first arrived. He may have suffered more traumatic conditions of confinement or abuse while held in Kuwait. I don’t have enough information to determine that, except Manning appears reluctant to talk about it much.
Even if Bradley Manning is not being held in conditions as horrific as those CIA black site prisoners suffered in the early days of the Bush administration, his situation, like those of thousands of Supermax prisoners in the United States, are onerous and destructive enough. We must ask that the unnecessary POI orders be lifted, and Manning allowed social time with other prisoners, according to normal prison rules and safeguards. He should have full access to mail and the ability to write to others, and to exercise unrestricted by shackles and chains. He should be allowed normal bedding, and greater rights of privacy.
Isolation is a technique well-known to break down individuals. Why does the U.S. government wish to break down Bradley Manning? Is it to get him to confess, to force a plea bargain, to implicate Julian Assange or other people, or to make an example of him to those who would choose a higher good over the machinations of the U.S. government in a senseless and criminal war?
Manning’s case should also be a wake-up call to Americans as regards the on-going practice of soul-crushing solitary confinement in America’s prisons. It is unlikely that the government could get away with the kinds of cruel and unusual punishment meted out to prisoners like Manning or Hashmi or Jose Padilla, or to the “war on terror” detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere, if isolation hadn’t been allowed to flourish in the prisons of this country, despite the occasional judicial rebuff.
Such treatment has also gained traction through the policies of the current administration which has turned a blind eye to prisoner maltreatment and even torture by agencies of the U.S. government, policies and actions which organizations like Wikileaks have tried to expose. And so the circle comes round and we have the case of a man who tried to expose such policies, whistleblower Bradley Manning, a man held in chains and what the English poet Lord Bryon called “the damp vault’s dayless gloom.” It is our obligation to demand humane treatment for him, and by extension, all prisoners held in U.S. custody.
. Petition to the Commanding Officer of Bradley Manning’s brig urging that his harsh conditions be lifted
. Bradley Manning/Wikileaks Timeline
. Michael Whitney on GritTV with Laura Flanders on Bradley Manning’s detention
December 26th, 2010
23 December 2010
“I greatly appreciate everyone’s support and well wishes during this time. I am also thankful for everything that has been done to aid in my defense. I ask that everyone takes the time to remember those who are separated from their loved ones at this time due to deployment and important missions. Specifically, I am thinking of those that I deployed with and have not seen for the last seven months, and of the staff here at the Quantico Confinement Facility who will be spending their Christmas without their family.”
[Source: WL Central.]
December 24th, 2010
Historian William Loren Katz claims in CounterPunch that many of the symbols of modern Christmas are a legacy of abolitionist women, who developed them as symbols of the fight against slavery:
The Women Who Gave Us Christmas
Exposing America’s Greatest Crime
By William Loren Katz
Before Christmas emerged as a commercial success it led a checkered social life. In the 13 colonies far from a Silent Night, Holy Night it was known as a heavy drinking, brawling festival, a raucous blend of July 4th and New Years Eve.
But as the struggle over slavery in the United States heated up in the 1830s, a band of Christian women abolitionists guided it into a holiday devoted to the prince of peace and emancipation.
In 1834, African American and white men and women members of William Lloyd Garrison’s newly formed Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society saw Christmas as an opportunity to expose a hypocritical republic that proclaimed liberty yet held millions of African men, women and children captive as slaves. Women assumed the lead, boldly defying a society that denied them a public voice or political opinions. To finance the abolition cause, these women organized Christmas bazaars that sold donated gifts, and trumpeted anti-slavery messages.
Because women were prominent, the media labeled abolitionist gatherings “promiscuous assemblies” and denounced male supporters as “Aunt Nancy men.” Even in the face of physical attacks sanctioned by the northern media, anti-slavery men and women persisted. After some meetings women linked arms, black and white, and surrounded their men to protect them from angry mobs.
During this Victorian era women abolitionists also took the lead in confronting a Northern public that felt the degradation of enslaved women and children was too sensitive and immodest a subject for public discussion. With clear language and images these women used their fairs to show the brutality and rape suffered by their enslaved sisters.
The women who conducted Christmas fairs also tried to float experimental attractive symbols and language. They first adopted the evergreen shrub. To penetrate the Northern conscience they compared the common practice of whipping children — beginning to gain widespread disapproval — to the brutal whipping of enslaved men, women and children the media hid from public view.
Women also used turned the holiday into a generous, gift-giving Christmas that rewarded children. Their emphasis on children asked Americans to grant that enslaved people, who had even fewer rights than children, deserved Christian care and generosity. This strategy was also designed to challenge slaveholder propaganda portraying enslaved adults as children. At least one early Massachusetts anti-slavery fair featured an interracial childrens chorus known as “the Boston Garrison Juvenile Choir” which sang such popular holiday songs as “The Sugar Plums.”
By the end of the 1830s, Christmas fairs had become the primary source of abolitionist funds. Bazaar sponsors now replaced the small green shrub with a tall, full-grown evergreen tree. The tree idea was inspired by Charles Follen, a German immigrant, children’s rights advocate and professor of literature at Harvard University, who had been fired in 1835 because of his anti-slavery activities. That Christmas, popular British author Harriet Martineau visited Follen’s home and became entranced by his towering evergreen. Martineau enthusiastically described Follen’s “Christmas tree” in one of her books and the public became enthralled. The Christmas tree stood as a kind of tall green freedom flag.
Arrayed against a slave-holding elite that held millions of men, women and children in chains, dominated southern state governments and dictated to the three branches of the federal government, women anti-slavery crusaders drew from their moral strength and their creative intellectual arsenal. Their early anti-slavery weapons handed us such endearing symbols as the Christmas emphasis on children, gift giving and the tall evergreen.
To expose the country’s greatest crime, challenge its largest vested interest and persuade fellow citizens their cause was righteous, a daring interracial band of women transformed an antisocial and rowdy festival into a humane holiday that promoted freedom for all. Shining light on the sins of human bondage and demanding emancipation on Christmas and the other 364 days, these pioneer women agitators beat hard on closed doors. Eventually their crusade not only liberated their southern brothers and sisters but gave birth to a movement that freed all women in the United States. These women gave American democracy, gave all of us, a Christmas gift that never stops giving.
William Loren Katz is the author of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage and forty other American history books. He is a Visiting Scholar at New York University. Copyright William Loren Katz 2010 His website iswww.williamlkatz.com
December 24th, 2010
Every year at this time I post a version of Christmas in the Trenches, that great song by John McCutcheon that suggests the possibility of peace in the midst of war.
For the one’s who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame.
At each end of the rifle we’re the same.
Christmas in the Trenches
Every year at this time I post a version of Christmas in the Trenches, that great song by John McCutcheon that suggests the possibility of peace in the midst of war. This year I post a brand new version by Gabriel Donohue:
I also post each year the following little article I originally wrote in 2005 on the Christmas truce:
The 1914 Christmas Truce and the Possibility of Peace
A new French film, Joyeux Noel , brings the 1914 Christmas truce, that moment when a world of peace could be imagined, to a wider audience.
An article on the truce and the film from the Telegraph has this nugget:
Some viewers might find a certain sentimental excess in the scene in which a Scottish bagpiper spontaneously joins in when German soldiers began singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). There are records of such an event. “All the acts of fraternisation had one thing in common: music and song,” says Carion. “I loved the idea that these could stop a war for a few hours.”
Perhaps we should learn something from this experience about the importance of music to peace. After all, the 60’s peace movements were infused with song, whereas today’s movements are silent. Music and song can unite, they can inspire, but they also can soothe. Movements for peace need all three.
The Telegraph article continues to point out that the reality of peace is beyond what audiences can believe:
The film also features a foraging ginger cat adopted as a mascot by both the French and the Germans. The cat existed, and, in real life, it was arrested by the French, convicted of espionage and shot in accordance with military regulations. “It was an era of madmen,” says Carion, who filmed this scene – to the great distress of his extras – but decided not to include it in case his audience didn’t believe it.
A Scottish bishop’s sermon, which includes references to a “crusade” and a “holy war”, seems like a thumpingly obvious effort to find parallels with more recent discourses about Iraq. In fact, these words were, Carion says, taken directly from a sermon preached by an Anglican bishop at Westminster Abbey. Here, too, the truth was toned down: Carion excised the real bishop’s references to German soldiers “crucifying babies on Christmas Day” in order to make it credible.
Perhaps the propensity toward war is aided by our unwillingness to imagine the depths to which people can sink when captured by the lure of war, the fantasy of perfect union with the state, that idealized perfect mother, and the ability to extrude all evil onto the enemy, that poisonous cannibalistic bad mother. As Christopher Hedges points out in War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in more normal times we disown this desire for union and extrusion and cannot remember or imagine how destructive it can be.
Perhaps this dynamic also helps explain people’s passivity toward the threats to democracy facing us in the United States today. For those identified with their country, to truly accept the danger puts the evil, the bad, inside the union, where it is especially terrifying.
A resolution for many is the demonization solution, to view George W. Bush and his administration as absolute evil, destroying the country and the world. While tempting, and certainly not without evidence, the problem with this outlook is that it is the mirror image of that attitude which leads us into the nightmare. To those adopting this view, evil resides in Bush, in Cheney, in the Republicans. If only they could be removed, impeached, tried, the world would be saved. The problem with this notion is that it encourages only destruction of the enemy, not construction of something better. History has repeatedly demonstrated that movements guided by hatred do not end up producing a better world.
The Christmas truce, in its magnificence, gives us a tiny glimpse of a true alternative, a world in which we are all simply human, in which that which we have in common is greater than that which divides us. For the brief moment of that truce, lasting days or weeks, the soldiers on all sides embodied the wisdom of peace through union, a union without an all-bad enemy (though the officer class trying so hard to restore their respective killing machines surely could have qualified). A union of fun, of games, and of song. A world dominated by eros.
The challenge, so far unsolved, is how to take such a moment and make it last, or at least not turn into its opposite, a renewed carnage of destruction. This challenge, as pacifists and nonviolent activists have repeatedly discovered, requires us to find a way to accept and tame the capacity for destructiveness in each of us, so as not to need to attribute it to an enemy. At the same time, we need to find a way to continue peace and unity in more normal, less extraordinary times, beyond the moment of fusion. For eventually the excitement fades and we remember all our irritations, our gripes and our fears. To bring peace into daily life is the need upon which the future of the human race may well depend.
This is the utopian challenge for our day.
Peace on Earth! Goodwill to Men and Women!
For more information on the 1914 truce, see the book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub.
December 24th, 2010
Assange responds to many of the silly and despicable things — such as “high-tech terrorist” — being said about him and Wikileaks:
December 24th, 2010
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression have issued the following statement in support of information freedom, a concept rapidly disappearing in the “Land of the Free.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection
the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Joint Statement On Wikileaks
December 21, 2010 – In light of ongoing developments related to the release of diplomatic cables by the organization Wikileaks, and the publication of information contained in those cables by mainstream news organizations, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression see fit to recall a number of international legal principles. The rapporteurs call upon States and other relevant actors to keep these principles in mind when responding to the aforementioned developments.
1. The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right subject to a strict regime of exceptions. The right to access to information protects the right of every person to access public information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf. It is a right that has received particular attention from the international community, given its importance to the consolidation, functioning and preservation of democratic regimes. Without the protection of this right, it is impossible for citizens to know the truth, demand accountability and fully exercise their right to political participation. National authorities should take active steps to ensure the principle of maximum transparency, address the culture of secrecy that still prevails in many countries and increase the amount of information subject to routine disclosure.2. At the same time, the right of access to information should be subject to a narrowly tailored system of exceptions to protect overriding public and private interests such as national security and the rights and security of other persons. Secrecy laws should define national security precisely and indicate clearly the criteria which should be used in determining whether or not information can be declared secret. Exceptions to access to information on national security or other grounds should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information. In accordance with international standards, information regarding human rights violations should not be considered secret or classified.
3. Public authorities and their staff bear sole responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of legitimately classified information under their control. Other individuals, including journalists, media workers and civil society representatives, who receive and disseminate classified information because they believe it is in the public interest, should not be subject to liability unless they committed fraud or another crime to obtain the information. In addition, government “whistleblowers” releasing information on violations of the law, on wrongdoing by public bodies, on a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, or on a breach of human rights or humanitarian law should be protected against legal, administrative or employment-related sanctions if they act in good faith. Any attempt to impose subsequent liability on those who disseminate classified information should be grounded in previously established laws enforced by impartial and independent legal systems with full respect for due process guarantees, including the right to appeal.
4. Direct or indirect government interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law when it is aimed at influencing content. Such illegitimate interference includes politically motivated legal cases brought against journalists and independent media, and blocking of websites and web domains on political grounds. Calls by public officials for illegitimate retributive action are not acceptable.
5. Filtering systems which are not end-user controlled – whether imposed by a government or commercial service provider – are a form of prior censorship and cannot be justified. Corporations that provide Internet services should make an effort to ensure that they respect the rights of their clients to use the Internet without arbitrary interference.
6. Self-regulatory mechanisms for journalists have played an important role in fostering greater awareness about how to report on and address difficult and controversial subjects. Special journalistic responsibility is called for when reporting information from confidential sources that may affect valuable interests such as fundamental rights or the security of other persons. Ethical codes for journalists should therefore provide for an evaluation of the public interest in obtaining such information. Such codes can also provide useful guidance for new forms of communication and for new media organizations, which should likewise voluntarily adopt ethical best practices to ensure that the information made available is accurate, fairly presented and does not cause substantial harm to legally protected interests such as human rights.
Catalina Botero Marino
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
December 23rd, 2010
An Irishman in the US reacts to his country’s economic crisis. This has so far received over 1.3 million hits on YouTube. This shows the value of class awareness in aiding social understanding. In the US, with our silly myth that we’re all “middle class,” the comparable anger is aimed at “Muslims” or “government spending” for social services, not the bankers and others who robbed us blind and the regulators and politicians who abetted them.
December 22nd, 2010
Americablog has this response to Vice President Biden’s description of Wikileaks as a “high tech terrorist”:
If anyone wants to go there, let’s have a quick review again of some of the “terrorist” WikiLeaks reports and then decide who is the actual problem. This is only a small portion of the material. Let’s think about what country has decided to pressure businessessuch as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal to halt payments despite the lack of any charges against WikiLeaks. And let’s not forget about the government censorship in China US.
- US irritated by EU privacy laws.
- Bank of America bans WikiLeaks payments despite no charges. They simply disagree with the message, which is a new chapter in the American system of politics.
- Taxpayer money used for child sex slavery in Afghanistan.
- US oil giant Chevron discussed oil drilling in Iran despite US laws which forbid such agreements.
- BP had oil well blowout like Deepwater in Azerbaijan months earlier.
- Failed UK bank directors “failed to live up to their duties”
- Vatican pressured Ireland to grant immunity to priests in child rape cases.
- Pfizer used “dirty tricks” in Nigeria in attempt to avoid prosecution.
- US conspired with China to block environmental reform in Copenhagen.
- Saudi Arabia is a “terrorist ATM”
- Senior Chinese Politburo member involved in Google hack
- Yemen offered US “open door” for missile attacks.
- Afghan VP arrive
December 20th, 2010
Among the many revelations from the Wikileaks cable release is this report:
Fatah asked Israel to attack Hamas: WikiLeaks
By Agence France-Presse
JERUSALEM — Members of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah party asked Israel to attack rival Palestinian movement Hamas in 2007, diplomatic cables leaked by secrets site WikiLeaks show.
The latest batch of cables quote the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency as telling US officials that “demoralized” Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip had asked for help against the growing strength of Hamas.
“They are approaching a zero-sum situation, and yet they ask us to attack Hamas,” Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told US officials. “They are desperate.”
He went on to praise his organization’s “very good working relationship” with Abbas’ security service, which he said shared with the Shin Bet “almost all the intelligence that it collects.”
“They understand that Israel’s security is central to their survival in the struggle with Hamas in the West Bank,” he said during the June 2007 meeting.
Revelations of such close collusion with Israel against fellow Palestinians is likely to embarrass Abbas and Fatah.
Hamas and Fatah have had tense relations for years, and resentment boiled over shortly after the Islamist group won elections in 2006. A year later, shortly after Diskin’s comments in 2007, Hamas routed Fatah in bloody fighting in the Gaza Strip and seized control of the coastal enclave.
The leaked cables were part of a flood of US diplomatic files published online by WikiLeaks, angering and embarrassing governments around the world.
December 20th, 2010
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