250 of the US’s most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting the treatment of accused Wikileaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning. Manning is accused of passing thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks and has been charged with “aiding the enemy”, a capital offense. As reported in the Guardian, the letter says that Manning is being held in “degrading and inhumane conditions” that are not only illegal and unconstitutional, but could amount to torture.
The letter was published in the New York Review of Books and written by Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School and Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School. This excerpt from the letter details the conditions Manning is held in and charges that these violate the US constitution (I have added emphases in italics):
For nine months, Manning has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day. During his one remaining hour, he can walk in circles in another room, with no other prisoners present. He is not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, but must answer the question “Are you OK?” verbally and in the affirmative every five minutes. At night, he is awakened to be asked again “Are you OK?” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket so that the guards cannot see his face. During the past week he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes.
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.”
… 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.
The signatories of the letter include:
- Bill Clinton’s former labour secretary Robert Reich
- President Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great-grandson Kermit Roosevelt
- the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union Norman Dorsen
- the novelist Kwame Anthony Appiah
- Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is “considered to be America’s foremost liberal authority on constitutional law” and who once taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign
Benkler stated in the Guardian that “it is incumbent on us as citizens and professors of law to say that enough is enough.” He added that the treatment Manning is being subjected to is being used “warning to future whistleblowers” and that it is “tragic that it is Obama’s administration that is pursuing whistleblowers and imposing this kind of treatment.”
Also, Ackerman points out that, under the Pentagon’s own rule book, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Manning’s jailers could be prosecuted for abusing him according to Article 93 of the code, that “any person who is guilty of cruelty toward any person subject to his orders shall be punished.”
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have denounced Manning’s harsh treatment, which the United Nations’ rapporteur on torture is also investigating.
I hope President Obama takes this letter very seriously. The letter notes that Wikileaks has “touched every corner of the world” and emphasizes that the whole world watches America and observes what it does, not what it says — and the treatment of Bradley Manning does not speak well for us.
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