In April, the Army transferred Private Bradley Manning from solitary confinement at Quantico, Virginia to the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. At Quantico, according to a Human Rights Watch report, the military had shackled Manning, stripped him naked, and isolated him. The government attributed this cruel treatment to their fears that Manning might commit suicide.

So badly did they want Manning alive, it appears, that his guards had orders to ask him every few minutes: “Are you OK?” This, the government admits, amounted to depriving Private Manning of sleep. Indeed, the alleged precautions taken to stop Manning from attempting to take his own life seem logically designed to drive a person to suicide.

Manning, the government claims, committed the egregious felony of leaking documents that make government officials and policy look less than morally perfect or politically smart. In May 2010, Manning was arrested on suspicion of having passed restricted material to the website WikiLeaks.

Two months later, the government charged the young private with transferring classified data onto his personal computer and then transmitting this national security information to an unauthorized source — journalists.

In March 2011, the government added 22 other charges, including the capital crime of “aiding the enemy,” although prosecutors stated they wouldn’t seek the death penalty for this most serious sin. Was torture the price Manning paid for not getting the death penalty?

During the presidential campaign both John McCain and Barack Obama took tough stands against torture. They didn’t go into details such as whether lengthy solitary confinement, systematic sleep interruption — “for the prisoner’s own safety” in Manning’s case — constant shackling, and forced nudity constitute torture. Manning has no record of criminal behavior, nor did he pose a threat to prison order.

The great legal scholar, President Barack Obama, dismissed the torture charges. He described the conditions of Manning’s confinement as “appropriate.” He even said that Manning’s conditions “meet our basic standards.”

On March 1, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley disagreed, calling the Pentagon’s pre-trial punishment of Manning “counterproductive and stupid.”

Crowley resigned a few days later, but cautioned that the “exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.”

Obama disagreed. At an April fundraiser for his 2012 campaign, Obama was questioned about Human Rights Watch statement labeling the Pentagon’s treatment of Manning as “extremely restrictive and possibly punitive and degrading.” Obama explained: “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law… We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate…He [Manning] broke the law.”

What? Was Obama not advised that after nearly a year of confinement Manning hadn’t been tried, and that only a court can determine if he broke the law? Obama’s statement risks prejudicing future jurors.

For Washington, WikiLeaks’ real crime is public humiliation. Remember, Washington itself prepped the public by “leaking” lies and distorted “intelligence” data to justify their invasion of Iraq.

Is it criminal to send drones and kill teams to knock people off who are “suspected” of terrorism or of having “links to terrorists”? Does Obama know how many non-terrorists died in these routine lethal activities that simulate video games?

If Manning leaked to WikiLeaks — which the government hasn’t yet proven — he and WikiLeaks deserve medals for alerting the world to torture, illegal and inhumane detention, and U.S. plots to destabilize other governments.

WikiLeaks unmasked the essence of “national security,” words that should now alert the antennae of citizens. Officials are covering up misdeeds that range from banal bureaucratic screw-ups to waging unnecessary wars.

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. He warns readers contemplating positions in the U.S. government not to read this column lest they be disqualified.

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