The man who taught President Obama constitutional law is now accusing him of violating it in his own administration. Laurence Tribe, who was one of Obama’s professors at Harvard and served as a Justice Department legal adviser until last December, has signed onto a letter with over 250 other legal scholars assailing the Obama administration for its treatment of Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of divulging classified documents to Wikileaks.
The letter, published in the New York Review of Books, asserts that Manning, 23, is being held “under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.” It also suggests that his treatment could be interpreted as torture.
Manning is currently held at a military prison in Virginia. Under the terms of his detention, he’s kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and stripped of his clothing each night, a precautionary measure to prevent him from self-injury according to military officials. He must also verbally answer the question “Are you okay?” every five minutes of the day.
The letter says the sum of his conditions are “a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial.” Manning was arrested in May 2010 but he has not yet been tried for any crime.
The letter also questions why Manning is being treated as a suicidal prisoner who requires maximum security detention.
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.
Tribe’s signature on the letter may come as a painful blow to Obama. The constitutional scholar has been described as a mentor to Obama and he was an early supporter of his presidential campaign. In an interview with the Guardian, Tribe said he signed the letter because Manning seemed to have been treated in a way that “is not only shameful but unconstitutional.”
The letter harshly denounces Obama for his inaction and urges him to be a “moral leader.”
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.
Manning’s detention has already caused rifts in the Obama administration. Last month, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned his post after calling the Pentagon’s handling of the soldier “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.
Meanwhile, rallies in support of Manning have been taking place. In March, 30 protesters — including Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentaton Papers in 1971 — were arrested as they called for the release of the prisoner.
And last Thursday, activists, students and members of the online hacking collective Anonymous came together on the steps of New York City Hall to protest Manning’s incarceration.
At the Rally For Information Freedom, organized in part by Barrett Brown, a de facto spokesperson for Anonymous (a leaderless group that resists being labeled as anything cohesive), speakers criticized the Obama administration for Manning’s treatment. Around 40 people gathered on the steps with signs like “Arrest War Criminals, Free Bradley Manning” and “Obama Stop Torturing Bradley Manning.”
Although the two groups are not affiliated with one another, Anonymous recently come to Wikileak’s defense, launching an online attack on the website’s of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal, after the companies halted financial services to Wikileaks.
Brown said he hoped the rally would bring more attention to Manning’s plight. “We want to keep Bradley Manning in the news. Their strategy is to make people forget. We want to make people remember,” he said.
Heidi Boghosian, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, compared Manning to Ellsberg. “Ellsberg was so dangerous that Nixon sent men into his psychiatrist’s office,” she said. “Today, Bradley Manning is the most dangerous man in America.” She said his treatment was designed to deter other whistleblowers.
“The National Lawyers Guild maintains that exposing crime is not illegal - it is moral,” she said.
On Monday, the United Nations investigator on torture criticized the Obama administration for allegedly blocking a meeting he was seeking with Manning.
H/T Josh Gerstein, Politico