Thursday, April 14, 2011

To Serve and to Newspeak

The episode passed a little too quickly for much notice by our all-too-busy press, but here is what went down March 13, thus a month ago. Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, resigned after having described the treatment of PFC Bradley Manning, accused of leaking document to Wikileaks, as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Manning was kept (maybe still is) naked and in solitary confinement; the grounds for this treatment is to prevent him injuring himself. He has yet to be tried.

Crowley resigned because we have a very curious but unwritten law that all those in public service must obey. They must learn and flawlessly speak Newspeak, more specifically to say in public only what, back in the bad-old communist days, used to be called the party line. They must never even indirectly criticize policy because, the fiction is, all policy in the executive branch directly links back to the President. And you don’t serve the public as a public servant, you serve the President. Right?

A brief wiggle in the news is likely now because the German Parliament’s Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance wrote a letter to President Obama on April 12 and made it public, albeit in German, today. The letter is signed by Tom Koenigs, the committee chair. If you read German, you can see it here. But I’ll save you the bother. Here it is in English:

Dear Mr. President,

I turn to you concerning the conditions under which Bradley Manning is being held in investigatory confinement at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. I do this in the name of the members of the committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance of the German Parliament. Based on information we have, Mr. Manning’s conditions of confinement are unnecessarily hard and have a punitive character. According to our information he is confined in an isolation cell without cushion or blankets and is undergoing sleep deprivation. In addition, on the grounds of alleged danger of suicide, his clothing has been removed. The circumstances of his confinement thus violate Article 10 of the International Pact for civil and political rights. Rights (IPbpR), which the United States has ratified. According to Art. 11 IPbpR it is required that “all persons who have been deprived of freedom be handled with humanity and respect for human dignity.” With this as background, I would like to ask you, in the name of my colleagues, to look into the conditions of Mr. Manning’s confinement and to ensure a humane implementation of the same.

With friendly greetings, Tom Koenigs
This would seem to indicate that Mr. Crowley not only violated Newspeak and thus indirectly insulted Big Brother, for which resignation would seem barely sufficient punishment, but he also committed whistle blowing, but with great lack of precision—in that he failed to cite chapter and verse of the applicable IPbpR.

I hope all those Arabs, enjoying what media label The Arab Spring, will carefully study this matter in efforts to learn how to imitate the behavior of genuine democrats and to turn themselves into our worthy successors.


  1. You write a great many interesting and insightful things.

    This was not one of them.

    This is a classic double bind for the US.

    They took his statements as legitimate and acted to protect him from himself using standard, and reasonable, precautions for a suicidal prisoner.

    On the other hand, if they had NOT followed the protocol and he had in fact hurt, or managed to suicide, it would have been considered equally damning.

    So I can't really consider this a serious argument, since the implied argument is that we should have not imprisoned him at all.

    Should the "Arab Spring" bring anything other than the Muslim Brotherhood to power, I hope they do pay attention to this.

    Don't expect your government to protect you and then accuse it of abuse in a double bind.

    Oh, and implement a separation of Church of State, including protecting religions you don't agree with, such as Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism . Enforce equal rights for women, and abolish slavery. Ban the practice of female mutilation.

    In fact, start there, and worry about treating traitors humanely later.

    Heck, start by treating the female half of the population humanely first, then move on to the harder stuff.

  2. You take a strange view of this post, Russell, assuming that you are actually writing about it. Its subject is the culture of forcing officials to speak the party line. As for Manning, treat him like every other prisoner. If he then manages to hang himself using his Fruit of the Loom, so be it.

  3. Is it about doublespeak? Quite frankly, it is hard to tell.

    I think you *think* that is doublespeak, but it is not.

    He is saying that he does not agree with the policies of the DOJ to prevent suicides.

    Even a cursory check of the litigation and human rights activism around prisoner suicides would show you that the position of "so be it" is laughable, were it not cruel.

    Suicide, not "getting shanked" is the most likely form of violent death in prisons.

    So, then his statements are a direct contradiction of DOJ policy, which attempts to mitigate suicides. (something that is remarkably hard to do with a determined suicide attempt) Thus, he should resign if he feels like you do, that letting him suicide is worse than being unclothed, in solitary confinement.

    Solitary confinement, btw, is also standard for spies and traitors. They cannot be mixed with the general population as they are at great risk of "getting shanked".

    As for the Arab Spring, I guess that was just a baseless and throwaway dig at Western Culture that somehow the treatment of Manning is in any way the ethical equivalent of Arab cultures.

    Democratic or not, they have a laundry list of things to fix before they come to the treatment of prisoners as a crime against humanity.

    Again, this is a remarkably unresearched, unclear and muddled argument for what is otherwise a remarkable blog. I think it would be worth taking a second crack at it to make it worthy of the rest of your work.