The Berkeley City Council on Tuesday will consider a watered-down version of a bill regarding Bradley Manning, the army private suspected of leaking the WikiLeaks documents.
Instead of declaring Manning a hero, the revised bill calls for Manning to be treated “humanely” in prison.
The switch in emphasis came after there was a huge national outcry from conservatives around the country that Berkeley was once again honoring a man some considered a criminal. Berkeley city officials had also been concerned with the original bill since it declared Manning a hero for a crime for which he has not been convicted nor admitted doing.
The new proposal “doesn’t say ‘declare him a hero’ or ‘give him a key to the city’” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It says we want more humane treatment while he is confined awaiting trial. I think that this will get a lot more votes than the previous proposal.”
The 22-year old Manning is being detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia under conditions some say are akin to torture. He is being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, has a bright light shining into his eyes at all times, is not allowed to use sheets or pillow cases, and is not permitted to exercise, according to Salon.com
The Berkeley resolution points out these harsh conditions and calls for the U.S. government to ameliorate the situation:
WHEREAS, PFC. Bradley Manning is made to sleep in his boxer shorts with no pillow and no sheets and a heavy blanket so rough that he must turn carefully beneath it to avoid rug burn; and
WHEREAS, PFC. Bradley Manning is required to sleep with light shining in his eyes at night and is required to affirm every five minutes when awake that he is OK when asked; and
WHEREAS, PFC, Bradley Manning has not been outdoors for months and has not been allowed to exercise in or out of his cell and has only been allowed out of his cell to shower and walk in chains and has not been allowed to watch TV during news time nor read a newspaper nor have personal possessions in his cell, nor have a pen or a pencil at most times or see most of the mail addressed to him; and ……
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley calls for the immediate end to the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of PFC. Bradley Manning during his military confinement.
Worthington, who had concerns about the original proposal that was submitted in December that declared Manning a hero, called for him to be freed, and offered him a key to the city, said he will vote for this new measure.
“The original proposal was problematic, which is why it got so much publicity,” said Worthington. “It went too far, even for Berkeley, which is concerned about human rights, peace and justice. We don’t want to do something so extreme it’s not ready for prime time. This is more measured … and more reasonable.”
During the same meeting on Tuesday, however, the City Council is set to consider another proposal adopted by the Peace and Justice Commission: an invitation to two Guantanamo Bay detainees to come live in Berkeley. Two cities in Massachusetts, Amhert and Leverette, have already extended invites for those once detained at Gitmo, according to the resolution.
There have been 38 detainees absolved of committing any crimes and two of them should be offered private funds to come live in the city, according to the resolution by the Peace and Justice commission. They Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian chef, and Ravil Mingazov, a Russian ballet dancer.
Phil Karmlarz, the city manger, is recommending that the council not take a position at this time since there currently is a federal ban on repatriating any of the former detainees inside the United States. There is no need to extend the two an invitation until federal law changes, he said. Only then will there be clarity for local cities.
Some city council members are not happy that the Peace and Justice Commission has put forward two controversial measures so close together.
“I feel that the P&J Commission emphasizes quantity over quality,” councilmember Gordon Wozniak wrote in an email. “Their resolutions are pushing an agenda with no attempt to achieve consensus or to assess whether the body public supports their point of view.
“I feel that their research on issues is shoddy and makes no attempt to present alternative positions. The stated purpose is often to be able to claim that Berkeley is first or the most radical on some fringe issue.”
“Finally, I feel that this deluge of ill-considered and poorly researched recomendations distracts the Council from grappling with the many messy local issues that do fall within our jurisdiction, e.g. crime, budget deficits, disaster preparedness, and business climate.”
“As an example of misplaced priorities, the city has a P&J Commission with a mandate to comment on worldwide events, but no Public Safety Commission focused on reducing crime. Thus Council spends an order of magnitude more time on resolutions from P&J and then it does on improving public safety.”
Worthington said his fellow council members should not be publically criticizing the “hard-working members” of a city commission. Moreover, Berkeley has often taken the lead in controversial measure which later became accepted norms, such as the call to divest from South Africa and recycle.
“We spend 99% of our time dealing with the nuts and bolts issues,” said Worthington. The less than 1% of the time we spend dealing with national and international issues provides an important resource to the cause of human rights. There are times when (a city’s vote) is a building block to giving legitimacy to an idea. You get a city government to say ‘yes, this is a legitimate issue we have to take seriously,’ it builds momentum for a cause.”