A few days ago, I hosted a segment of my show about the torture of Bradley Manning. On it, I argued with regular contributors Karen Finney, Jimmy Williams, and Susan Del Percio about whether Manning, as a member of the military, has the right to due process and the right not to be tortured. I believe he has rights, the others disagreed.
Captain David Price, a viewer and a retired JAG corps member, wrote in to clarify. Since that segment, the commander at Quantico, where Manning is housed, has been replaced, and the Department of Defense conducted an embarrassing press conference (which you can view here).
I turned on the Dylan Ratigan Show this afternoon somewhat in the middle of the discussions concerning PFC Bradley Manning focused on the length and conditions of his confinement at the Consolidated Brig, Marine Corps Development Command, Quantico, Virginia. While I do not have sufficient personal knowledge of either the allegations or the facts concerning his treatment to be able to respond to those concerns, for the purposes of this note I will accept as accurate what has been reported concerning unauthorized actions on the part of the command operating the brig. My response is not focused towards the specific facts of his case; but, rather, are in response to comments made on the show that there is "no due process in the military" or similar comments that when a person joins the military they surrender all legal rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution.
It is true that military service is unique. The reality, however, is that military personnel do retain the essential rights and privileges of any citizen or lawful resident of the United States, although those rights are exercised within the context of the special demands inherent in military service, where the rights of an individual will often be of secondary concern to the needs of good order and discipline in the protection of our national defense.
Throughout history are instances where individuals have abused their authority. No law or regulation will ever prevent misconduct from occurring. What laws can do, however, is provide a mechanism for holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions, whether it be PFC Manning as concerns the allegations against him; or Brig Commander James Averhart and the accusations being made against him. What is essential is responsible leadership, at all levels in the military chain of command, up to the President, as Commander-in-Chief, if necessary; and through oversight responsibilities of the Congress to ensure that military personnel suspected of offenses are not being abused and that their rights are being protected.
I applaud Jane Hamsher, David House, and David Coombs (Manning's attorney) for their advocacy and helping bring attention and light to this issue. A proper investigation should be conducted to inquire into these allegations. IF the allegations concerning mistreatment at the Brig are proved to be correct -- then it is incumbent upon those in command to hold accountable those who have abused their positions of authority. That will be the best demonstration of the existence and protection of the rights of a service member. The abuse of authority by a Commander over a subordinate, however, does not necessarily mean that a military member has no rights or that there is "no due process" within the military.
David P. Price
CAPT, JAGC, USN (Retired)