The President Versus Human Rights

Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture, stated this week that the US Government’s treatment of Bradley Manning “constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture.”

Manning is the US Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking (to Wikileaks) classified information: Evidence of corruption and underhanded tactics in promoting US global dominance, as well as video footage of a US helicopter crew murdering two Reuters journalists and shooting up a van with kids in it after its driver attempted to evacuate wounded victims of that attack.

Manning spent eleven months — before his trial even began — in punitive solitary confinement, typically confined to his cell for 23 hours a day and forced to strip naked at night. The Guardian reports that Mendez “could not reach a definitive conclusion on whether Manning had been tortured” because the US military has consistently denied him permission to meet with Manning privately.

US President Barack Obama, who campaigned on change and offered transparency, bears direct responsibility for the abuse, and possibly the torture, of Manning.

Not surprising: This is the same president who signed indefinite detention without trial officially into US law, and who claims the authority to order the murder of anyone anywhere on his personal assertion that they are “enemy combatants.”

This is the President Obama who, as commander in chief of the US military and chief executive of the US government bears direct responsibility for murderous drone attacks, in which powerful missiles mutilate bystanders, then return to rain death on people who come to the scene of previous attacks.

This is the same President Obama who has shown almost complete indifference to voices from the massive populist Occupy movement, or to the violence used against them.

Obama is doing his thing as top politician. In order to make the impact he wants to make he needs to be in power, bending toward whichever interests prop him up. That means picking up where George W. Bush left off, and making deals with other arms of power: The warlords of the American military-industrial complex, the financial executives, the bureaucracy, and so on.

The Republican Party is falling all over itself to show that it can find candidates who would be worse than Obama. They talk about “getting tough,” appealing to people who think doing bad things to people the government says to hate makes them tough.

Anyone else? Ron Paul might at least scale back some of the government’s worst excesses or encourage other politicians to become temporarily less evil to undercut his support. However, it’s doubtful he’ll win because the Republican establishment would rather lose the top post for four years than risk permanent reductions in their power and privilege. In the end Paul is a politician with a shady past; putting a lot of hope in him would be silly anyway. Third Parties have the deck stacked against them on everything from ballot access to exclusion from public debate.

The power structure tends to reward people who are best at climbing over others to reach its top. What they are willing to do for those already on top keeps them in good standing with the ruling club.

Sure, politicians can be more or less evil, but we don’t have to invest our political efforts in helping a lesser evil come to power. We can work independently of politicians, in the short term pressuring them from outside and in the long term dispensing with them altogether.

Abolishing power structures and dispersing power as widely as possible is the ultimate democratic project of bringing power to the people. It is a project of fostering community based in respect for individual liberty and autonomy.

If it sounds like anarchy, that means you are on the right track. Ask what makes the word anarchy scarier than politicians who claim the right to kill anyone anywhere, put those who challenge them in solitary confinement for months, and instruct police to attack people occupying public space instead of upsetting the bankers and bosses that are so important to keeping them in power.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory