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Lies my Obama told me

"I don't want to have people who just agree with me. I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone."

-- Barack Obama, June 18, 2008.

Barack Obama lied.


He lied because somebody -- a good man, a decent man, and a respected spokesman for the U.S. State Department -- pushed Obama out of his comfort zone this week. And so what happened? -- the Obama administration forced him out of his job. Apparently Obama does just want to have people who agree with him. Imagine that.

Truth be told (heh), the biggest outrage in this story actually is not the firing of the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley (pictured at top). It's the episode that Crowley spoke out about -- the bizarre and immoral treatment of alleged Wikileaks leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning, who according to multiple news accounts is being held under conditions that make Gitmo look look like a halfway house for inside traders.

It started out like this:

Made to endure strict conditions under a prevention of injury order against the advice of military psychiatrists, he is treated like no other prisoner at the 250-capacity Quantico Brig detention facility in Virginia. Despite that he is yet to be convicted of any crime, for the past 218 consecutive days he has been made to live in a cell 6ft wide and 12ft long, without contact with any other detainees. He is not allowed to exercise or have personal effects in his cell, and for the one hour each day he is allowed free from his windowless cell he is taken to an empty room where he is allowed to walk, but not run.

One of the few people to have visited Manning, David House, spoke yesterday of how he had witnessed his friend go from a "bright-eyed intelligent young man" to someone who at times has appeared "catatonic" with "very high difficulty carrying on day to day conversation".

And it got worse:

Military jailers are forcing Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old soldier accused of passing classified documents to, to strip naked in his cell at night and sleep without clothing, a requirement his lawyer says was imposed after Manning made a "sarcastic quip" about his confinement.

So basically the administration that ran on a platform of ending torture of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists and closing Guantanamo has not only not closed Gitmo (yes, Congress was a big part of that, but still..) but is now inbhumanely treating a United States soldier who's accused of a serious crime. This is an unforced error, to use the kindest possible languiage. It is not George W. Bush's fault or Dick Cheney's fault that Barack Obama's Pentagon is torturing Bradley Manning. It is only Barack Obama's fault.

It took P.J. Crowley to see the emperor's new clothes. Speaking last week at an informal panel at MIT* on new media, Crowley was asked about the Manning case and blurted out the truth. He said the circumstances of Manning's detention have been "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." Those five seconds of brutal candor cost Crowley his job today -- although, for what it's worth, he is an American hero to me and to many others.

Look, this is not a commentary on what Manning did or not do. He is charged with a serious offense under the law in leaking classified documents. His advocates call him a whistleblower. I'm not sure what Manning's defense will be but I do know two things: 1) he is entitled to his day in court, just like anyone else and b) he is also entitled to be held in humane conditions, not a form of torture -- sleep deprivation is torture -- which may aimed at forcing a confession.

I'm 52 years old, and I'm constantly amazed at how much about human nature I still don't really get. What exactly goes on in Obama's mind? He's a smart and supposedly idealistic guy who came of age during the Reagan years, who surely -- those first times he dared to dream about the Oval Office -- saw himself taking all the obvious hypocrisy. Instead, he is taking presidential hypocrisy to new levels. What switch got turned off, or on, that stops him from ordering a halt to the mistreatment of Bradley Manning?

How does Barack Obama look in the mirror some mornings?

* Corrected from initial version.