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Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with "The End of Nature" in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. The group he founded, 350.org, has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. The Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was "probably the country’s most important environmentalist."
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Posted April 13, 2011
Interview with Bruce Ackerman, Yale law professor, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
As accused WikiLeaks whistleblower Army Specialist Pfc. Bradley Manning spends his tenth month in solitary confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Va., his treatment has aroused opposition on many fronts. Bloggers at FireDogLake.com, have taken up his cause, and author Greg Mitchell just published a book about Manning, whose trial date has not yet been set. And in the April 28 issue of The New York Review of Books, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman and Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler published a letter of concern that has already been signed by 300 academics, mostly law professors, calling on the Obama administration to end the military's abusive treatment of Manning -- or justify its conduct, which many experts say amounts to torture.
In addition to being held in solitary confinement, Manning has been regularly stripped naked and provided only with a special anti-suicide smock to wear in his cell, conditions that human rights groups, including Amnesty International, believe may violate his rights.
Juan Mendez, a Switzerland-based United Nation's rapporteur on torture, has requested, but thus far has not been allowed to visit Manning in prison to make an unmonitored assessment of his treatment. Between the Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman about why he wrote the open letter and what effect he hopes it will have.
BRUCE ACKERMAN: Yochai Benkler and I have been following the case and it seemed that things were getting worse and worse and it was time to actually organize the scholarly community to make a statement on it, so that's what we did. I was very pleased that they saw a need to stand up for this. I should say this letter is by no means the only, or maybe even the most important thing that's being done. There's this fellow, Juan Mendez, from the United Nations, who's trying to have an interview with Private Manning, and so far, the U.S. government hasn't allowed him to have an interview with him. And yesterday he issued a statement complaining about that. So there are quite a few organizational efforts. It should be also emphasized that we really don't know the facts. Our letter of concern was based upon a presentation of the facts by Manning's lawyer...that it's going on for 10 months now he's in maximum security even though his reports say he's a model prisoner; and then he's been exposed to really very extreme measures as a suicide risk, so he's placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day in his cell and then he's allowed one hour to walk in a room by himself. Whenever he dozes off during the day, every five minutes he's asked, "Are you okay?" and at night he's stripped bare and given a smock and whenever he turns his back to the jailers or puts a cover over his head, they say, "Are you all right?" So this is very, very extreme stuff here, but we don't know what the facts are.
BETWEEN THE LINES: You mean you're saying Manning's lawyer is saying this, but you have no other source of information...
BRUCE ACKERMAN: And the U.S. government has not tried, publicly, to refute it. And that's really what we're demanding...these allegations can't just go on indefinitely, for this treatment, for 10 months after all, and he hasn't been put to trial. He hasn't been convicted of anything. If it's true, it's an obvious violation of fundamental due process principles and the uniform code of military justice...if it's true, and if it isn't true, well then, the U.S. government should explain its conduct and justify it. We can't just go along without a trial and just expose this fellow to these conditions and then bar a U.N. investigator from a meeting with Manning.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So, Bruce Ackerman, what do you hope your letter accomplishes?
BRUCE ACKERMAN: That's the point, to express our concern and to insist that this cannot be allowed to continue. Either these conditions have to be radically revised or we have to have a clear statement of what the facts are and why the Marine Corps in Quantico, where he's being held, think this is justified. The secretary of the Navy should be, and I'm told he is, investigating. He should move quickly to really investigate this situation.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think about how the Obama administration has handled this?
BRUCE ACKERMAN: There is no evidence that this very restrictive and extreme treatment is being done for the good of Private Manning. It's possible, of course, that Private Manning is suicidal and certain steps have to be taken. It's possible, but nothing of the kind has been shown and Private Manning alleges that his army psychiatrist has said he is not a suicide risk. So at the present time, from what we can tell, there is one obvious reason for this going on, which is to induce Private Manning to say something that would strengthen the case against (WikiLeaks founder Julian) Assange.