Eminent US Legal Scholars Protest ‘Torture’ of Bradley Manning

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

A full list of scholars who have signed the letter can be found here.

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.


You can take action and sign this petition to end the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning.


Previous Care2 Coverage

Bradley Manning Jailed Naked For 7 Hours; 22 New Charges Filed

The Case of Pfc Bradley Manning


Photo by Takver.


Carol B.
Carol Burk6 years ago

Conditions in our prisons are not humane. If this happened in a private hospital or in a home, the place would be closed down and the victim compensated for injury.

John E.
John E6 years ago

"Is this Quantico or Abu Ghraib?" Dennis Kucinich wrote recently. "Officials have confirmed the 'non-punitive' stripping of an American soldier who has not been found guilty of any crime. This 'non-punitive' action would be considered a violation of the Army Field Manual if used in an interrogation overseas."
Of course this didn't stop Abu Ghraib from happening, but charges and convictions (at the lower levels) did eventuate.
If we accept the above as true, then why is this happening to an unconvicted US soldier/citizen on American soil?
The contravention of human rights is indeed a slippery slope ... just ask people in China , Iran and a host of other countries in that part of the world, and elsewhere.

The Other Robert O
Robert O6 years ago

We no longer have a moral platform to stand on. I thought we stood for more. I thought the US was the bearer of great ideals. Apparently the beacon went out.

Zuzana Dratovnikova

..... the treatment of Bradley Manning does not speak well for us.

...and neither does our treatment of Col. Lt. Lakin.

Carole H.
Carole H6 years ago

This is outrageous treatment - if Gaddafi or any other tyrant treated an unconvicted person in this way the West including the USA would be up in arms about it - how dare you - USA you should be ashamed.

Larry W.
Larry W6 years ago

Every single thing that occurs does not need to be in the public domain; otherwise you should be willing to give up any confidentiality or privacy for yourself or your loved ones, because, hey, what is there to hide? Some things ought to remain confidential, not necessarily because it is 'secret' but because me telling my friend Joe (who also happens to be your friend) that you made an idiotic error in judgment about something is of no significance to the world at large and publishing it can only serve to harm relationships and ensure that accurate and honest information will NOT be forthcoming in future. (Actually, that is pretty much what occurred in many of these diplomatic cables that were released). If I had to choose an arbiter for what should be secret, confidential, or simply sensitive, I don't think my first choice would be a 22-year old army private. In any event, this article is about 'torture' and plenty has been alleged but none shown.

Nicholas A.
Nicholas A.6 years ago

Who should be prosecuted, the evil doer, or the reporter of the evil done? If what was revealed was good, promoting world peace, brotherhood of nations and all peoples, will the authorities persecute and prosecute Manning? We should always do things that will never be an embarrassment when revealed. FREE MANNING NOW!

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Thank you Frank F, for giving us a resource for some real information.
Pulling the wool over the eyes of the American public has been practiced almost from the beginning of it's political history, but lately, it has become less 'refined' as it were, and the blatant disregard of "what the people will say", is more frightening yet. It can only mean "they" are very secure in they're belief that they now CAN ignore the populace and no longer have to pay lip service to the concepts of a democratic society.

Alastair L.
Alastair L6 years ago

It amazes me how taken in so many Americans were with Obama and how disappointed they now seem to be. What exactly were you expecting from an Ivy-League constitutional lawyer with zero track record (that I know of but happy to be proven wrong on that) on any kind of social justice movements. I know he's one of the best orators going around, pause, thoughtful sideways look, triptych of inspirational nouns, pause, drop down three semi-tones, repeat Yes We Can. But did we? No, because the US is a military state whose whole economy is lead by a perpetually at war industrial complex projecting power and selling arms and mythologising about freedom.

The guy stands there sipping bottled Fiji water when he wins the election (probably the most environmentally destructive water on earth from a country suffering under military dictatorship that profits heavily from said water!). It seems like the symbolic victory for black people, and I know that's an important thing in terms of self esteem and self-belief, is enough to magically transform your whole nations political system from a corporate oligarchy to some kind of benevolent democracy. Keep dreaming!

The rich are still getting a whole lot richer than anybody else in your nation. In fact a whole class of wall st traders and bankers just pulled the biggest knowing, criminal swindle in US history to the tune of trillions of dollars and still got their bonuses paid out of your nations low-wage employees' taxes. Don't you get it?

Jeane Garrett
Jeane Garrett6 years ago

I do not feel sorry for this traitor. He has hurt this country & it's people as well as other countries & their people. "Poor baby" has to pay for his crimes.