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Tortured Rule of Law

Obama taught constitutional law in Chicago, and campaigned on making respect for the rule of law one of the cornerstones of his presidency. He also promised to end the excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and increase government transparency.

And yet, his actions say otherwise. His administration has gone after whistleblowers with a vengeance, most notably Army Private First Class Bradley Manning. In fact, many legal scholars, including Laurence Tribe, who taught constitutional law to Obama at Harvard and was a legal advisor to the Obama administration until three months ago, think that the government’s treatment of Manning is illegal, unconstitutional, and could even be considered torture.

Tribe, along with more than 250 of our country’s top legal scholars have signed a letter protesting Obama’s treatment of Manning, who has been held at a military base since July and is facing a court martial on charges that he leaked classified information. The harsh treatment of Manning has also been denounced by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and is being investigated by Congressman Dennis Kucinich and by UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez to see if it violates US and international rules concerning the treatment of prisoners. But the military has not allowed any of them to visit with Manning without supervision and monitoring, which means that anything Manning says could be used against him during this trial.

This is the kind of treatment we used to denounce in totalitarian governments like the USSR. Things have gotten so bad that even China is criticizing US human rights abuses, and getting away with it. When did we lose the moral high ground?



  1. Michael wrote:

    You forgot to mention that the resulting attacks on WikiLeaks have been criticized by China for the blatant hypocrisy regarding free speech. China, of all places…

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    Good point. Added.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  3. ebdoug wrote:

    Send the link to the “Tortured Rule of Law” to the above under Contact us. They have people there reading these commments we send. Takes one minute to send the link.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  4. PatriotSGT wrote:

    IK – I would tand to defend the military in this case, but I have reservations about doing so. 2 different points:
    1. It is true the military has its own special way of dealing with Soldiers who express suicidal/homicidal ideations that are different from civilian. Early on in my Army career I was a behavioral science specialist, (now called a mental heath tech). Occasionally I would ask Commanders to place Soldiers who reported they were a danger to themselves or other on “watch”. They would be required to sleep in a cot in front of a CQ (Charge of Quarters) and be observed 24/7 until either A) they ideations stopped, or B) I referred them to a hospital for full evaluation. The watch period was never for longer than 7 days although it could be renewed if the Soldier was re-evaluated.Observation included a clear line of sight at all times, including during toilet usage and showering. So I don’t know if Manning had ever previously reported ideations, but what is reported does not seem to be usual treatment. For a short period yes, absolutely normal and not out of line, but not for months. That is something different alltogether.
    2. He should have been charged by now. Even Soldiers have due process rights. He should have been assigned and advised by defense counsel by now.

    My personal thoughts are he is not a whistleblower because he didn’t take it up the chain of command. In the military there must be discipline Soldiers cannot do what they want. He could have submitted a congressional inquiry as his course of action if he was that concerned. Believe me when I say congressionals are the last thing any Commanders wants on his record, because if substantiated its a career ender and even if not its a blemish that will keep them from senior ranks. That being said there should be access to him particularly if Kucinich wants it.

    Lastly, I cannot take Amnesty International serious, when they criticize the US amongst all the real and unimaginable torture and abuse that occurs around the world, including but not limited to beheadings by Al Quaida, Stonings by Iran, large scale rapes, genocide, etc. Seriously, China speaking out about sensoring, really. Would anyone take a guy with teabags hanging off his hat seriously when he says taxes are the highest they’ve ever been. Come on now.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  5. Michael wrote:

    @P, thanks for the insight based on your experience in the service. I’ve had concerns about the handling of Manning, but I don’t know what news/rumors to trust. I am suspicious that he has received harsher than usual treatment, especially given that access to him for impartial observers has been denied. But I’m not ready to put on the tinfoil hat yet. I just don’t have enough information…

    As for your comment about Amnesty (disclaimer: I have been involved with Amnesty in the past, primarily to support the anti-capital punishment campaign), it would be valid if they exclusively criticized the US and ignored problems elsewhere. But that’s just not the case. They bring attention to any injustice that they find. That’s why you can go to their web site and learn about their campaigns directed toward Guatemala, Libya, Azerbaijan, DR Congo, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Uganda, Albania…and that’s just the first 3 pages of stories regarding violence toward women. If the media only mentions Amnesty’s criticisms of the US and ignores their other work, that’s not a fault of Amnesty. Many conservatives like to kick Amnesty because it is not afraid to criticize the US for human rights abuses. But attacking the messenger doesn’t make the problem go away.

    Having said that, there are another couple of elements at work. First, the US is more open than, say, China or Iran. Consequently, it is easier for a group like Amnesty to uncover problems in the US. Second, the US is held (rightly so) to a different standard than most other countries, especially ones that are not western democracies. Because of that, it’s more disconcerting when we do things that are directly in conflict with our stated ideals. For instance, torture at Guantanamo (yes, waterboarding is torture…just ask the Japanese from the Nuremberg trials) and extraordinary rendition cannot be reconciled with the Geneva Accords and high-minded ideals regarding the necessity of human dignity. We in the US should be leaders in this regard. You know, that whole beacon to the world thing. So take criticism from Amnesty as it is intended…a call to do better and to address an injustice that we have the power to fix.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  6. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Michael – agreed and understood on amnesty. I guess we/I just hear about complaints against the US more then other places and so it seems we are their main target of criticism. I also agree that we should be the leaders and held to a higher standard. When John McCain spoke out against torture he has to be taken most seriously as the only member of congress to have actually experienced torture at the hands of another regime. When he says it doesn’t work, we ought to listen.

    With Manning we need evidence. Where are they accusations coming from, Manning himself or some other party. It just seems to me the military, knowing these things will come out, would be foolish to do so. The commandant or commanding officer of the prison would be subject to an investigation and charges of misconduct among other things. After Abu Ghraib they all know heads would roll and there would be no immunity for top brass. I know, if a congressman asked to see the PFC, who would not be denied and if he was only Sec Gates on orders from the President could deny him. I just can’t see Obama or Gates willingly wearing that mantle. But, it is not impossible, just less probable.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink
  7. Clark wrote:

    You should repost this with a photo of Obama showing the text of one of his broken promises, along with the Bush and Manning photos.
    I think it would have more of a punch that way.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    Actually, I blame Obama both for not going after the people who lied us into war, and now for the treatment of Manning.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink