Via Guernica, Karen Greenberg sounds the warning on what she terms “enemy creep.” Treatments once reserved for foreign terror suspects will be applied to the U.S. populace, as the definition of the “enemy” continually expands.
It has been a persistent worry of civil libertarians that violations of the rights of non-citizens would eventually contaminate the ways citizens are treated, too; that a process of “enemy creep” would, in the end, result in the Guantanamo-ization of American terrorism suspects.
When rights were first denied to captives at Guantanamo Bay, the Bush administration argued that a prison in Cuba should not be considered subject to the constitutional principles that apply to Americans everywhere or to anyone within the territorial boundaries of the U.S. It is, however, quite another matter, as in the King hearings, to single out Muslims or others in our midst as potential terrorists and then to argue that when arrested—even if they are U.S. citizens or captured or tried on U.S. soil—they should be denied the protections of U.S. law.
At the moment, the most alarming example of “enemy creep” can be found in the case of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who allegedly downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified documents from Army computer systems and turned them over to WikiLeaks. He is now being held on 24 charges in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement in a brig at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, while awaiting a court martial slated to begin later this spring.
There, among other punitive forms of treatment, he has reportedly been denied his clothes at night (though he is now apparently allowed to sleep in a coarse, tear-proof gown), supposedly as a form of self-protection. In captivity, nakedness, as the infamous abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison demonstrated, is above all a form of humiliation, and often the first step towards physical and sexual abuse, including torture. Manning, neither Muslim nor accused of terrorism, is nonetheless clearly considered by his captors an enemy of the nation, a traitor. As a result, he is being kept under conditions which should make Americans take note of the blurring of, and crossing of, previously sacrosanct lines and the dismantling of long-established rights when it comes to defining and punishing “the enemy.” Though no jihadi terrorist, Manning, too, is being punished before being tried for the crime of threatening national security.
Thanks to Mukasey, Kaplan, King, those overseeing the treatment of Manning, and others, the embrace of cruel standards when it comes to alleged enemies of the state is gaining traction. These officials and former officials seem to be part of a process, remarkably uncommented upon, that is turning previously unthinkable rhetoric into normal discourse and intolerance into a rationale for challenging the rights of anyone accused of violating the country’s security.