Why South Africa needs more PJ Crowley to speak against authority

How I wish South Africa had politicians like the former US state department spokesman PJ Crowley who repeated his comments that Bradley Manning’s mistreatment by the US prison officials was “stupid” and ridiculous”. Had this been said by one of our politicians, or just ordinary members of our society, political Hell would have broken loose, if it exists.

Manning is accused by the US government of having passed about more than 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, who the latter published these in association with other media outlets, including The Guardian and New York Times newspapers, since last year.

Speaking through his lawyer, David Cooms, in an 11-page legal letter on the ill-treatment he has received since his arrest, Manning said since the begging of March this year he has been stripped naked every night and made to parade in front of his officers and guards in the nude. This, he said, started on 2 March when he was informed that his attempt to have his harsh treatment in prison ameliorated had been unsuccessful. Manning said after being “frustrated” and “enduring over seven months of unduly harsh confinement conditions” he asked brig operations officer, MSG Papakie what he “needed to do in order to be downgraded from maximum custody and prevention of injury status” and MSG Papakie “responded by telling me that there was nothing I could do to downgrade my detainee status and that the brig simply considered me a risk of self-harm.”

Due to frustration Manning then told MSG Papakie that “PoI restrictions were absurd and sarcastically told him if I really wanted to harm myself, that I could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of my underwear or with my flip-flops.” Manning said not only was he stripped naked but that he was also placed under “suicide risk” despite a recommendation by prison psychiatric who assessed him as a “low risk and requiring only routine outpatient follow-up [with] no need for … closer clinical observation”. This, in the eyes of Manning, was an embarrassment.

Manning’s father, Brian, broke his silence against the ill-treatment of his son saying “it’s shocking enough that I would come out of our silence as a family and say, ‘No, you’ve crossed a line. This is wrong’”. He said the decision to strip the prisoner naked at night was a form of humiliation, according to a Guardian newspaper report. Brian reportedly said this during a Frontline television programme that his encouragement led Bradley entering the army in the first place. He said it was after he had “twisted” Bradley’s arm that he then decided to join the army. “He didn’t want to join”, said Brian Manning, “but he needed structure in his life, he was aimless. I knew in my own life that joining the navy was the only thing that gave me structure, and everything’s been fine since then”.

Brian is quoted as defending his son as a source of the secret documents taken from US military databases and passed to Wikileaks. “I don’t know why he would do that, I really don’t. He then added that “whoever released those documents, it was the wrong thing to do. You just don’t go there.”

Even a group of concerned Doctors in the US spokes against Manning’s unethical treatment saying this ill-treatment was unfair.

It was the ill-treatment of Manning that made Crowley resign as US Spokesperson. In his other letter in the Guardian, Crowley said “based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review. The Pentagon was quick to point out that no women were present when he did so, which is completely beside the point.”

In this letter in the Guardian newspaper, Crowley said:

The issue is a loss of dignity, not modesty.

Our strategic narrative connects our policies to our interests, values and aspirations. While what we do, day in and day out, is broadly consistent with the universal principles we espouse, individual actions can become disconnected. Every once in a while, even a top-notch symphony strikes a discordant note. So it is in this instance.

The Pentagon has said that it is playing the Manning case by the book. The book tells us what actions we can take, but not always what we should do. Actions can be legal and still not smart. With the Manning case unfolding in a fishbowl-like environment, going strictly by the book is not good enough. Private Manning’s overly restrictive and even petty treatment undermines what is otherwise a strong legal and ethical position.

When the United States leads by example, we are not trying to win a popularity contest. Rather, we are pursuing our long-term strategic interest. The United States cannot expect others to meet international standards if we are seen as falling short. Differences become strategic when magnified through the lens of today’s relentless 24/7 global media environment.

So, when I was asked about the “elephant in the room,” I said the treatment of Private Manning, while well-intentioned, was “ridiculous” and “counterproductive” and, yes, “stupid”.

“I stand by what I said”, said Crowley. “The United States should set the global standard for treatment of its citizens – and then exceed it. It is what the world expects of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves”.

Oh, how I wish me had many politicians IN South Africa who spoke against the “powers that be” like Crowley did the US.

Desmond Tutu alone is not enough…

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