The Wright Perspective℠
Social Commentary from the C-Suite to Main Street℠
A Blog by Gary Wright II
US struggles to assert human rights transparency with treatment of PFC Bradley Manning
Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
On Monday, an interesting exchange took place between a State Department spokesman and two reporters. While the United States is quick to point out human rights violations in China, they can't fairly criticize China while turning a blind eye to the human rights violations currently taking place by the United States.
You have to watch the video clip of this uncomfortable exchange posted on YouTube.com
POLITICO Josh Gerstein U.S. struggles to assert transparency on Wikileaks suspect's treatment
U.S. struggles to assert transparency on Wikileaks suspect's treatment
A State Department spokesman struggled on Monday to explain how the U.S. could argue it is being fully transparent about its human rights record even as a United Nations official has complained that he is being denied a private meeting with Army Private Bradley Manning, who is in a military brig on suspicion of leaking classified information to Wikileaks.
Acting State Department Spokesman Mark Toner encountered the choppy water at the daily briefing where Associated Press writer Matthew Lee and Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed pressed Toner about the claim of complete transparency -- one that the U.S. made in a back and forth over China's criticism of the annual State Department report on human rights.
The exchange has to be read in full to appreciate Lee and Mohammed's sharp and persistent questioning. After Lee and Mohammed suggested that the U.S.'s refusal to grant the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture an unmonitored visit with Manning belied the U.S. claims of transparency, Toner said the U.S. was being "forthright" about the treatment of Manning.
"We have nothing to hide," Toner said before refusing to discuss the reasons for refusing the U.N. envoy's request or the content of exchanges with him. The State Department spokesman said the pending legal charges against Manning complicated the situation and his ability comment on it.
"Being forthright is saying nothing because there's a legal process underway; is that correct?" Lee shot back.
"That's not correct at all. And we've - we continue to talk to the special rapporteur about his case," Toner replied.
Earlier in the briefing, Toner claimed that the U.S. system allows for criticism of human rights practices "without fear of recrimination."
Lee replied by noting that public criticism of Manning's treatment by then-State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley led directly to his departure a few weeks ago from the podium now occupied by Toner.
"It seems to me that the only person who was forthright in discussions of his treatment resigned several days after making those comments," Lee said.
Towards the end of the contentious exchange, Lee expressed some sympathy for Toner's plight.
"I understand that you're put in a difficult position where you say that you're willing -- as Arshad noted... you don't understand why China is so upset because the U.S. is willing to open up its human rights situation to all kinds of scrutiny and then the first example that anyone raises, you're not."
The Pentagon said Monday that the U.N. official, Juan Mendez, is welcome to meet with Manning but that brig rules require that such a meeting be monitored and permit any statements Manning makes to be used against him in court. Other legal experts say that requirement for monitoring is improper.
Full exchange after the jump.
Lee: "Last week we saw the annual ritualistic dance of your release of the Human Rights Report and the Chinese immediate condemnation of it, which, frankly, has gotten a little bit tiring every year. But do you think that that coming so soon after this - after this exchange, the annual exchange of vitriol, that these talks will be as productive as they might otherwise be?"
Toner: "I don't know if I agree with your characterization of it as an annual exchange of vitriol. Look, for our part, we are - we do our Human Rights Reports every year. We are candid in our exchanges with China about human rights concerns both from the podium and in our private meetings with them. And certainly, we don't regard it as an interference in our internal affairs when any foreign government or individual organization monitors our human rights practices. And we are proud to say that our system of government allows for that kind of comment without fear or without fear of recrimination. And it speaks to the value of our system, we feel."
"So I wouldn't describe it as that. Obviously, we've got a very broad and complex and varied relationship with China, and as the President said, it's one of the pivotal relationships of the 21st century, and we feel that these kinds of people-to-people, individual-to-individual exchanges build that relationship and strengthen it going forward."
Lee: "Can you explain why, if the United States is proud of its human rights record, that the UN special rapporteur has complained that you're not allowing him independent access to Bradley Manning?"
Toner: "We've been in contact with the UN special rapporteur. We've had conversations with you in terms of access to?"
Lee: "With me?"
Toner: "I'm sorry. We've had conversations with the special rapporteur. We've discussed Bradley Manning's case with him. But in terms of visits to PFC Manning, that's something for the Department of Defense"
Lee: "And the ICRC with the same problem? You are - the State Department is the direct contact with the ICRC. At least it was for the Guantanamo inmates. Have you had any contact with them?"
Toner: "I'm not aware. I don't know. I'd have to look into that. But in terms of the UN special rapporteur, we've had conversations with him. We have ongoing conversations with him. But in terms of access to Manning, that's something for the Department of Defense."
Mohammed: "If you welcome scrutiny, where's the harm?"
Toner: "I said we're having conversations with him. We're trying to work with him to meet his needs. But I don't understand the question."
Mohammed: "Well, you said you welcome scrutiny from outsiders of the United States human rights record?"
Toner: "Right. We do."
QUESTION: -- "that you feel that it speaks to the strength of the U.S. system. So why does it take very lengthy conversations to agree to let a UN special rapporteur have access to an inmate?"
Toner: "Well, again, for the specific visitation requests, that's something that Department of Defense would best answer. But look, we've been very clear that there's a legal process underway. We've been forthright, I think, in talking about Private PFC Manning's situation. We are in conversations, ongoing conversations with the special rapporteur. We have nothing to hide. But in terms of an actual visit to Manning, that's something that DOD would handle."
Lee: "Well, but you have conveyed messages from DOD back to the UN on this?"
Toner: "Well, no. We're just - look, we're aware of his requests. We're working with him."
Lee: "Can - you said you've been forthright in your discussions of his treatment. It seems to me that the only person who was forthright in discussions of his treatment resigned several days after making those comments. What - can you explain what you mean by you've been forthright in terms of his treatment?"
Toner: "He is being held in legal detention. There's a legal process underway, so I'm not going to discuss in any more detail than what I - beyond what I've just said because there's a legal process underway."
Lee: "So that's what you mean by forthright?"
Toner: "I can't discuss - I can't discuss his treatment."
Lee: Being forthright is saying nothing because there's a legal process underway; is that correct?"
Toner: "That's not correct at all. And we've - we continue to talk to the special rapporteur about his case."
Lee: "Well, okay. So if you've been - what do you talk to him about?"
Toner: "I'm not going to talk about --"
Lee: "He says, 'I'd like to visit him and I need to do it privately,' and you say, 'No,' and that's --"
Toner: "I'm not going to talk about the substance of those conversations. I'd just say we feel we've been --"
Lee: "Well, then I don't understand how you can say that you're being forthright about it if you refuse to talk about it. And if you don't talk about it, at least - forget about what the actual conditions of his treatment are, but if you're not prepared to talk about your conversations with the special rapporteur, that's being even less than not being forthright because you're not telling us what you told him."
Toner: "But you understand the legal constraints that I'm operating under because this is an ongoing legal process."
Lee: "Right. But --"
Toner: "He is being held --"
Lee: "I understand that you're put in a difficult position where you say that you're willing, as Arshad noted when the - that you're - you don't understand why China is so upset because the U.S. is willing to open up its human rights situation to all kinds of scrutiny --"
Toner: "And, Matt --"
Lee: "And then the first example that anyone raises, you're not."
Toner: "And, Matt, I would raise with you the fact that much of China's report came from open source, which is what an independent media does, and would note that that kind of independent media does serve a function. And there are details about the Manning case and other human rights concerns out there, but I'm not going to talk about it here."
It was a great loss to our nation when PJ Crowley resigned. You couldn't pay me enough money to stand behind that podium under the current circumstances.
-- Gary Wright II
I've written several blog entries on this topic. To read more, visit our page devoted to PFC Bradley Manning .