As usual, the State of the Union address was a top to bottom massacre of verbiage. Every year the English language struggles to survive an onslaught of what can only be described as total verbal hangover from a year of rhetorical binge drinking. Somehow, some way, one man manages to stand on a platform (while two other guys sit awkwardly behind him clapping every now and then) and sum up a bunch of nonsense over the course of an hour or more.
The results are never pretty and picking out something objectionable is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. But if I had to pick one of the most egregious quotes from Obama it’s this: “[W]e defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.”
Mr. President, do you know who Chelsea Manning is?
I mean, you seem to know who she is. You’ve said in the past that Manning is guilty of “breaking the law,” thus implying that she deserves her sentence of up to 35 years in prison. And you’ve also commented that the Pentagon assures you that her conditions are “appropriate and are meeting our basic standards” when she was put in solitary confinement.
This, despite the fact that, at the time, she was being “… confined for 23 hours a day to a single cell, measuring around 72 square feet, equipped only with a bed, toilet and sink.” And the fact that it was an illegally lengthy pretrial detention didn’t seem to matter much to Obama either, despite there being pretty good grounds for it being a human rights violation.
As the Center for a Stateless Society’s Nathan Goodman wrote, “UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez investigated the conditions under which Manning was held and concluded ‘that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement … constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.'”
Given this history of knowing ignorance, how could Obama not know about Chelsea Manning? Obama’s history of protecting other big political dissidents is also abysmal. Just ask Edward Snowden, who had to flee the country to make sure he wasn’t detained like Chelsea Manning, before he released information to the public that the government found embarrassing. Is that a sign of a free society?
I suspect Obama does know who Chelsea Manning is, but for some reason she doesn’t count as someone who has been persecuted for her struggles as someone who is transgender — despite the fact that during her pre-trial hearing Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis defended the pretrial detention on the basis of Manning’s gender dysphoria because “that’s not normal, sir.”
So does persecution of transgender people only count when governments aren’t the persecutors? Is Chelsea Manning not a victim of persecution much like the inordinate number of other trans people locked in prison? And what is Manning if not a political prisoner who has been locked away for up to 35 years because she helped an undefined enemy in some nebulous and apparently impossible to argue for way?
At the heart of this is Obama’s ability to both recognize and obfuscate. Sure he knows about Chelsea Manning, but the question is whether or not he cares. With statements like the one he made in his address, we can see the answer before us quite clearly.