A lacking debate

With a Republican VP running-mate finally named, the countdown to the U.S. election begins. But with only 85 days remaining, there is a glaring lack of debate on human rights and torture in America.

Pvt 1st Class Bradley Manning has been accused of provided the largest leak of state secrets in US history. The government’s treatment of Manning, particularly during eight months of detention at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, has been called torture by the UN’s chief torture investigator.

In the United States and beyond, newspapers are being filled with the ongoing policy discussions related to the U.S. presidential election. With less than three months to go, however, next to nothing has been said about America’s ongoing problem with torture.

Just this weekend, candidate Mitt Romney announced his choice for a vice-presidential running mate; it’s Paul Ryan, a Republican representative from Wisconsin and a “fiscal policy wonk”, as he’s most consistently described. It’s a pretty clear signal — this election is about the economy and the diverging ideologies of how to remove the U.S. from the ongoing recession.

And lost within these debates on domestic and economic policy is any discussion on torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the U.S.; the 80,000 prisoners detained in long-term solitary confinement, the rendition and torture programme of the Bush years, or the particular case of Bradley Manning.

Manning, 24, who is accused of supplying the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history to Wikileaks, was detained for more than eight months in conditions his lawyers describe as a “flagrant violation” of his rights, in a motion published this Friday.

According to the motion, Manning was subject to “cruel and unusual” treatment in military detention. He was forced to remain awake every day from 5:00 to 22:00, during which he could not lay down or lean against a wall or other support – “he had to sit upright on his rack without any back support”, his lawyer writes. Manning was also only permitted 20 minutes outdoors a day; any time outside of his cell he was forced to wear leg and arm restraints.

Following a 14-month investigation, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez described the treatment of Manning as torture.

These are also issues that also need to be addressed and raised during the next 85 days. When the media has gone so far as to debate a candidate’s treatment of his pet during the 1980s, and not yet raise the issue of torture, it’s a depressing sign of America’s depleted authority on human rights.

Let’s finally have this proper debate on torture in the U.S. So let these candidates know that we want them to tell us about their views – on long-term solitary confinement, on cruel treatment of Bradley Manning, and on impunity of those involved in the US rendition and torture programme. Ask them on Facebook, Twitter and townhall meetings.

Tessa, a US citizen living in Denmark, is Communications Officer at the IRCT.

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