U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley recently resigned under political pressure after issuing the statement, “What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defense.” The statement, coupled with Crowley’s sudden resignation, has called more attention to the human rights issues surrounding Manning, the 23-year-old U.S. Army private accused of leaking classified government files to WikiLeaks. For nearly a year now, Manning has been detained as an untried prisoner in conditions that many believe constitute torture, as he has been subject to sleep deprivation, 23-hour isolation, stripped naked each night; and because of his prevention of injury (POI) classification, he is deprived of sheets and a separate pillow and must be checked every five minutes during the day. Manning, arrested in Iraq in May 2010, has more than 20 charges against him, including aiding the enemy, and could be sentenced to life in prison.
In Camarillo, on Wednesday, April 13, a panel of some of the nation’s heaviest-hitting, most outspoken critics of torture performed by the U.S. government will be speaking at a forum on the issues surrounding Manning, political prisoners, veterans and whistle blowers, co-hosted by Veterans for Peace (VFP) and U.S. Tour of Duty.
One panelist will be Ray McGovern, an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, as well as President Ronald Reagan’s CIA daily briefer. Another will be Michael Needham, whose son was an Iraq vet who objected to alleged war crimes committed by his notorious unit — known as the Lethal Warriors — and was held in solitary confinement and deprived of food. He died in February of 2010 from complications related to his medical care.
Political activist Susan Rosenberg will join these panelists. She was sentenced to 58 years in prison on explosive possession charges — unloading 740 pounds of dynamite and weapons from a car into a storage locker in Cherry Hill, N.J. The charge typically would carry a maximum sentence of five years, but lawyers contended the sentence was politically motivated because of her alleged affiliation with radical organizations, such as the Weather Underground.
She was sent to an experimental underground prison in Lexington, Ky., where she was subjected to conditions like Manning’s for three years until a lawsuit by the ACLU prompted closure of the facility, and the prisoners were transferred. In January 2001, after 16 years in jail, President Bill Clinton pardoned her. Her new memoir, An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country, reveals how she was subjected to brutal treatment in various U. S. prisons.
Rosenberg went on the record with the Reporter this week about her life, torture, Manning and humanity.
VCR: How does your experience compare to what Manning is going through?
Susan Rosenberg: My experience in Lexington — and lots who were incarcerated for political reasons in the ’80s were experimented on by the Bureau of Prisons — was a precursor to what has been a full-blown program since the Bush presidency. I think part of what’s important about my experience is, the treatment of Bradley Manning doesn’t just happen. The kind of treatment he’s getting, the torture he’s receiving, the people at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, all of the secret prisons located around the Mid East, those programs and their development have been around for decades and decades. My experience in Lexington was, I was in an underground basement for three years with lights on all the time, cameras everywhere, sleep deprivation, no outside contact, constant harassment, sexual and otherwise, censorship of all materials. … When it was happening to me, it was to see if they could get me to renounce my beliefs; and the prize for doing that would be to place me in general-population prison. It’s important to understand, it has happened in this country for quite a while, and there is a history to it. Bradley Manning, I fear for him. From what I’ve heard and read about, the way he is being treated and dealt with is more extreme than the conditions I just described, but there are similarities. What is important in talking about this stuff is that torture doesn’t work. Torture doesn’t get the information that people want. Having written this book and gone through deep experiences at the hands of the prison system, I don’t want to live in a country that uses torture as a normalized method of treatment for people that are in opposition to our government.
So if Manning is in this torturous situation right now, what are they trying to get him to denounce, since the crime he committed is clear?
That’s the thing. If you look at him, he hasn’t even been convicted of anything. He is in detention, essentially. I have no idea. They can’t blame everything on him. This is an important question. But this is detention. No due process rights for this guy. No jury, no nothing, just barbaric inhumane treatment. What is the point? To confess other things he didn’t do, tell them things he doesn’t know. … Part of it is to say to people in the military that you can protest how we’re running a war, but there is a limit to what is acceptable. They are really trying to teach a lesson. It’s what they were trying to do to me, saying, “Look, you protest and you take illegal action against the government and this will happen to you.” That is the point of torture.
In the world according to Susan Rosenberg, what would you do with Bradley Manning?
I’d put him on trial. I’d let him have a defense. I’d let him explain what he did and why. It’s like what happened with people after 9/11. They should have had trials instead of being immediately declared terrorists. It has to do with our view on what is the war on terror. I am not in favor of any terrorism ever, and that is one of the lessons for me about my whole life. . . .There is no rationale for this kind of stuff.
When you talk about terrorism and say you are against it in any form, would you have labeled yourself a terrorist 30 years ago?
No. That is what the U.S. government said and how they treated me. But no. My feeling and view about that is, terror is aimed at civilian people and doesn’t have a political target. It’s to create fear. It’s the other side of torture. They go together. But for me, coming out of those social movements, we wanted to change the government. We didn’t think that voting was the only way to do it, and we organized to take illegal action against the government and that does not make us terrorists.
But to somebody reading your bio, they will read you had hundreds of pounds of dynamite when you were arrested, and yet you’re saying you had no intention of hurting people, so how do you explain that?
I explain it as wrong. Thinking that we can control violence in any way and associate it and use it to make social change is a mistake. And I really do believe that. It’s not something I want to justify. At the time, what we thought was we were going to support a mass movement that was demanding the U.S. to end its illegal wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. We thought that by creating an underground capacity to enforce the events of a mass movement, we would be adding to the movement and make real change. … In the book, what I talk about is how one thing in my life led to another; and sometimes one finds themselves in such a set of circumstances, and that is what happened to me.
I thought I was on the right side of history and thought I was right. It’s all part of the narrative. But I’m not justifying it.
Do you have faith in humanity still?
(Laughs). Yes I do. Yes, I have faith in humanity. I saw some incredible acts of beauty and solidarity in prison. I lived in the most marginalized and disenfranchised community in the United States for 16 years, and I learned an incredible amount from that experience. Part of why I could survive all of that is, I really looked to find beauty in some really ugly stuff and I continue to see that. I’m not totally optimistic about social change on a global level, at the moment, coming from the United States. But it’s a process, and people always want a better life and that is a good thing.
The forum is set for Wednesday, April 13 and will begin at 7 p.m. in the UFCW Orchid Room located at 816 Camarillo Springs Road, Camarillo. Admission is $10 at the door, but only $7.50 if with advance registration at http://ustourofduty.org.