Obama Finally Commutes Manning’s Sentence After Torturing And Nearly Killing Her
You don’t deserve gratitude and praise just because you stopped torturing someone.
When I was little I used to try to scoop up ants I found in the house and bring them outside; I was a sensitive girl and I couldn’t abide the idea of killing them. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned an ant can’t survive apart from its colony, and moving them disrupts the complex navigation system the creatures have evolved for finding their way back home. It will just scuttle around aimlessly until it dies of malnourishment except in the unlikely event that it happens across a scent trail from its colony. The further away I moved those poor little buggers off their trail, the smaller the odds of that ever happening.
As primates, which are among the most social creatures in the animal kingdom, humans are like much larger, much more complex ants with much larger, much more complex colonies. Our ancestors evolved all sorts of evolutionary mechanisms to deter them from moving away from their tribe, their colony, in the same way they evolved pain to deter them from harmful situations and fear to deter them from needless risk. Our entire evolutionary heritage is geared toward cooperating with members of our tribe to secure food, watch out for predators, remove parasites, and generally out-survive and out-thrive other competing organisms. Every fiber of our being calls out for this social collaboration, and when it’s not, survival alarm bells start ringing in the same exact way as they do when we accidentally place our hand on a hot surface or are getting too close to a cliff’s edge. That’s what fear and pain functionally are, and that’s what loneliness and the experience of isolation is as well.
The isolated ants scuttling through my family’s backyard due to my misinformed acts of childhood compassion were being propelled by the experience of distress, to the furthest extent such simple creatures are capable, because all of their evolutionary conditioning was sending out signals that the organism was under existential threat. An isolated chimpanzee experiences a much deeper and more complex sort of distress due to its vastly more complex neurological makeup, and we humans, who have about three and a half times more brain cells than our chimpanzee cousins, are capable of experiencing far more complex and layered psychological suffering than they. But ant, chimpanzee and human all suffer in essentially the same ways for essentially the same reasons: the existential alarm bells which protect the overall survival of our respective species are being triggered due to a perceived existential threat.
This is why solitary confinement is classified as torture. A lot of people have a hard time understanding this because society’s extensive history of physical torture leads people to associate that word with hot pokers and thumb screws. People have an easier time understanding that waterboarding is torture because the use of restraints and the more physically involved nature of its application makes it look more like the acts traditionally associated with that word, but you’ll still hear Republicans trying to argue that it isn’t torture due to the relative lack of physical danger and the absence of conventionally painful stimuli being applied to the body’s tissues. Waterboarding is designed to simulate the experience of drowning while (in theory anyway) not putting the subject at much risk of death; it works by flooding the victim’s experience with evolutionary distress signals, just like conventional torture, and just like solitary confinement.
Manning was tortured, as sure as if they’d tied her down and gone to work on her with fire and steel. As a result of the trauma they inflicted upon her, she attempted suicide last July. To punish her for her attempt to end her misery, they sentenced her to more torture via solitary confinement. She attempted suicide again in October.
I am happy that Chelsea Manning’s inhuman treatment is scheduled to end on May 17th. I am grateful that her brilliant, caring mind will no longer be brutalized at the hands of cruel oppressors seeking to make an example out of whistleblowers to deter people from letting Americans see the truth about their government. But I am not grateful to Barack Obama for commuting her sentence. Gratitude is not something one receives for ceasing to torture someone. Criminals don’t get praised for the crimes they choose not to commit; you don’t shower a serial rapist with thanks and praise for not raping more.
In terms of what’s left of his legacy, all that Obama gets from me is one less thing to hate him for. When I’m going to bed at night, there will be one less thing on my extremely long list of evil things that he has done for me to rage about. He’s still the guy who got Chelsea Manning tortured and nearly killed. He’s still the guy who chose to let her rot in isolation long after the United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez stated unequivocally that Manning’s treatment was “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and after 295 legal scholars signed a letter declaring that she was being “detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.” He’s still the guy who left her in that hell hole after not one but two suicide attempts. He’s still the guy who promised to protect whistleblowers and have the most transparent administration in history, then went on to prosecute more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. The man is evil, and his ceasing to inflict more evil in this one particular area does not change that. He’s probably only doing it to bait Assange out of political asylum anyway.
I hate Barack Obama. I hate him even more than I hated Bush, because at least Bush was straightforward about being a warmongering neocon. Obama exploited all progressives’ best attributes to spend eight years continuing and expanding all of Bush’s worst policies, exploited our hope, our sympathy, our trusting nature, all to continue spreading murder and chaos abroad and leeching the life out of the 99 percent to benefit the oligarchy at home. I hate him, and I’m not going to stop just because he decided to finally stop torturing an American hero.
It’s important for progressives to get super clear as soon as possible that this man has never been one of us. He campaigned on lies for the benefit of everything we oppose, and unless we put our foot down we’ll (at best) be stuck with another fauxgressive like Elizabeth Warren running against Trump in 2020, who will do all the same things Obama did. We need to start insisting on real human beings who care about real human beings leading us, our country and our world. I know that doesn’t leave a lot of politicians to choose from, but they’re out there. They’re out there.
Let’s start turning this thing around and give Chelsea Manning the kind of country she can be proud of.