Obama’s shame is getting bigger and bigger. Yesterday, 250 of America’s most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning – the 23-year old soldier who was the original whistleblower to WikiLeaks. The signatories include Laurence Tribe of Harvard University, a foremost authority on US constitutional law, former professor of Obama, and backer of his 2008 campaign.
As featured extensively on the Internet (including this blog, see here, here, here and here) and lately also in the mainstream media, Manning is treated in ways that are cruel and inhumane, if not amounting to torture. He is permanently stripped of clothes during the night and public morning inspection; solitarily confined for 23 hours a day; permanently shackled during his one hour of outside-cell time; and under constant surveillance, even though he is not suicidal.
Manning’s treatment, clearly unlawful and unconstitutional, seems very much meant to intimidate future whistleblowers. All this is occurring under the watchful eye of Barack Obama. So no wonder the American legal establishment is (finally) starting to protest – including regarding the constitutionality of Manning’s treatment. Read the full letter here.
Bradley Manning is the soldier charged with leaking US government documents to Wikileaks. He is currently detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.
The sum of the treatment that has been widely reported is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial. If continued, it may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture, defined as, among other things, “the administration or application…of… procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”
Private Manning has been designated as an appropriate subject for both Maximum Security and Prevention of Injury (POI) detention. But he asserts that his administrative reports consistently describe him as a well-behaved prisoner who does not fit the requirements for Maximum Security detention.
The administration has provided no evidence that Manning’s treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates. Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.
If Manning is guilty of a crime, let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law. But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is no excuse for his degrading and inhumane pretrial punishment. As the State Department’s P.J. Crowley put it recently, they are “counterproductive and stupid.” And yet Crowley has now been forced to resign for speaking the plain truth.
The Wikileaks disclosures have touched every corner of the world. Now the whole world watches America and observes what it does, not what it says.
President Obama was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency. He should not merely assert that Manning’s confinement is “appropriate and meet[s] our basic standards,” as he did recently. He should require the Pentagon publicly to document the grounds for its extraordinary actions—and immediately end those that cannot withstand the light of day.
Some signatories: Brucke Ackerman, Jack Balkin, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Alexander M. Capron, Norman Dorsen, Michael W. Doyle, Randall Kennedy, Mitchell Lasser, Sanford Levinson, David Luban, Frank I. Michelman, Robert B. Reich, Kermit Roosevelt, Kim Scheppele, Alec Stone Sweet, Laurence H. Tribe, and more than 250 others. Check the full list here.