Is the US Army stooping to mafia-style tactics in seeking to imprison 23-year-old Private Bradley Manning for the rest of his life, essentially making him an example for other US soldiers who might be tempted to put conscience and commitment to truth ahead of military discipline and going by the book? If the mafia comparison strikes you as a tad over the top, perhaps a seven-year trip down memory lane may prove instructive. Remember what happened after the US army learned of the obscene and brutal treatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in early 2004? Maj-Gen Antonio Taguba led the first (and only honest) investigation of the scandal. In May 2004, he completed a report that sharply criticised the army and the higher-ups in the Bush administration for creating the conditions that permitted the mistreatment to occur. When the report leaked to the press, Taguba found himself treated like a disloyal capo who had talked out of school about the Family business. Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honour of the US army, the Bush administration singled out this hard-working, low-key general for retribution and forced retirement. In an interview with New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, Taguba described a chilling conversation he had with Gen John Abizaid, head of Central Command, a few weeks after Tagubas report became public. As the two men sat in the back of Abizaids Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, You and your report will be investigated. Id been in the army 32 years by then, Taguba told Hersh, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the mafia. It was also an early indication that Tagubas military career was nearing its end because the general had given the American people a glimpse into the dark world of the Bush administrations policies of torture and murder. Hersh wrote that the sensitivity over Tagubas report went beyond its graphic account of physical and sexual abuse of Iraqis detained at Abu Ghraib; it also brought unwanted attention to a wider pattern of criminal acts committed with the approval of President Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The administration feared that the publicity would expose more secret operations and practices, including special military task forces set up to roam the world and assassinate suspected terrorists, Hersh wrote. Hersh quoted a retired CIA officer as saying the task-force teams had full authority to whack to go in and conduct 'executive action, a phrase meaning assassination. It was surrealistic what these guys were doing, the ex-officer told Hersh. They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the [CIA] chief of station. Then, in January 2006, Tagubas career got the proverbial kiss on the cheek. Gen Richard Cody, the armys Vice Chief of Staff, called Taguba and without pleasantries or explanation told Taguba, I need you to retire by January 2007. No medal for honesty So, the general who had violated the omerta code of silence was banished from the Bush administrations mafia. Of course, Taguba was not alone. There were other brave souls albeit not enough who challenged Bushs unconstitutional and illegal policies. All of them met similar fates of banishment, punishment, and ridicule, the likes of Treasury Secretary Paul ONeill, Army Gen Eric Shinseki, counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Deputy Attorney General James Comey. There is a much longer list of disgraceful examples of war crimes (many still continuing): Reprisal attacks on Iraqi cities like Fallujah, using white phosphorous and depleted uranium weapons; torture, deemed enhanced interrogation by the wordsmiths in Washington; orders to look the other way as detainees continue to be tortured by Iraqi security forces; and drone and other air attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that kill unarmed civilians, euphemistically dismissed as 'collateral damage. Just last month, there was Gen David Petraeus shocking Afghan government officials with his suggestion that Afghan parents are burning their own children to cast blame on the US military for its indiscriminate air assaults. For his part, Taguba remained a stalwart on behalf of the armys honour. He publicly condemned prisoner abuse and eventually called for the prosecution of those responsible. He has written, There is no longer any doubt that the current [Bush] administration committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account. More than two years after President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney left office, it seems safe to guess the answer to Tagubas question. Accountability? Fuggetaboutit For various reasons ranging from expediency to cowardice, the Obama administration has taken no steps to hold the perpetrators of those war crimes accountable. The only hope is that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the faux-lawyers who 'approved the torture may eventually be held accountable abroad under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction. This possibility already accounts for why many dont venture abroad; they fear capture and prosecution. Rumsfeld had to beat a hasty exit from Paris in October 2007, and Bush had to cancel a planned trip to Geneva last month just to be on the safe side. But US 'Justice officials are neither investigating nor prosecuting. Mannings forced nudity Even worse, the recent behaviour of todays Pentagon brass and their new political overlords gives further support to Tagubas comparison of them to the mafia. When Private Bradley Manning put his conscience ahead of his personal well-being by allegedly releasing important information to the worlds public via WikiLeaks, he was put into an inhumane solitary confinement and is now facing charges that carry the possibility of him spending the rest of his life in prison. One of the charges is 'aiding the enemy, a military crime punishable by execution, although Pentagon officials apparently thought they were showing some mercy when they let it be known that they would not seek the death penalty against Manning. The army, however, has been treating Manning in ways reminiscent of the detainees at Abu Ghraib and the CIAs various 'black sites. He has been locked in his cell at the marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, for 23 hours a day and barred from interaction with other prisoners even during his one hour of 'exercise in an empty room. On Wednesday last, Manning was stripped of his clothes and forced to remain naked in his cell for seven hours. He also was required to stand naked during an inspection. A US military spokesman confirmed the incident, calling it 'not punitive, but said he couldnt explain why Manning suffered forced nudity because to explain would violate 'the detainees privacy. On Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Geoffrey Morrell defended the general conditions of Mannings maximum security imprisonment due to the seriousness of the charges hes facing, the potential length of sentence [and] the national security implications as well as his personal safety. [NYT, March 4, 2011] So, authorising, plotting and carrying out torture, assassinations and aggressive warfare violations of both US legal principles and international law get you no punishment, only hefty speaking fees from friendly political groups and fat contracts from book publishers. But sharing facts with the public and helping the spread of democracy across the Middle East and around the world gets you life in prison under harsh and humiliating conditions. The duplicity, corruption, and abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere around the world needed to be exposed in a timely way. And the public needed the official documents, so there would be no doubt about the informations authenticity. Upside-down rewards Indeed, in a just world, we would be considering Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize, since his alleged release of US war logs and diplomatic cables about wrongdoing in places like Tunisia and Egypt did more to oust dictators and give hope for democracy than anything an American president has done in recent memory. Shouldnt Manning be accorded honours heavier than the cumulative weight of the ten rows of ribbons, badges and medals weighing down the left breast of Gen Petraeus and so many other oh-so-admired generals? And, if their inept and brutal war-making was not humiliating enough, they now have to swallow Defence Secretary Robert Gates opinion (quoting Gen Douglas MacArthur) that anyone who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia should 'have his head examined. However, instead of lining up at the psychiatrists office on the nearest base, the army brass has decided to imprison Bradley Manning for the rest of his life. Apparently, if you cant kill the messenger, the next best thing is to lock him up in solitary forever. After all, how better to demonstrate to other soldiers the punishment that one should expect locked away in a tiny cell with minimal human contact for a half century or more should s/he be tempted to follow Mannings example. How better to divert attention from the damning substance of the WikiLeaks documents, and to focus attention instead on the supposed sins of releasing classified material. And how better to divert attention from the awkward fact that many of the documents were only classified to prevent embarrassment to the US government and the army, and NOT to safeguard any genuine national security secrets. Despite much teeth-gnashing in the Fawning Corporate Media about the irresponsibility of Manning and WikiLeaks, the army has been unable to make a single credible claim that anyone, or anything but reputations, has actually been hurt by the disclosures. One of my greatest regrets is that the army in which I felt honoured to serve has become quite a different animal. It is hard to avoid concluding that the biggest difference between Mafia dons and todays army brass is that the dons are less ham-handed about what they do. Editors Note: Below is a Sept 9, 2004, memo to current government officials from the Truth-Telling Coalition urging the disclosure of government secrets, especially relating to war, as an act of conscience: It is time for unauthorised truth telling. Citizens cannot make informed choices if they do not have the facts for example, the facts that have been wrongly concealed about the ongoing war in Iraq: the real reasons behind it, the prospective costs in blood and treasure, and the setback it has dealt to efforts to stem terrorism. Administration deception and cover-up on these vital matters has so far been all too successful in misleading the public. Many Americans are too young to remember Vietnam. Then, as now, senior government officials did not tell the American people the truth. Now, as then, insiders who know better have kept their silence, as the country was misled into the most serious foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. Some of you have documentation of wrongly concealed facts and analyses that if brought to light would impact heavily on public debate regarding crucial matters of national security, both foreign and domestic. We urge you to provide that information now, both to Congress and, through the media, to the public.