Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obama's human rights record takes a notch

Laurence Tribe, Barack Obama's former teacher at Harvard University, has written to the President, along with 300 fellow professors and legal experts, condemning the United States' treatment of Bradley Manning and appealing to President Obama, as a former professor of constitutional law himself, to uphold “fundamental standards of decency”.

The 23 year-old former U.S. Army intelligence analyst held responsible for leaking government documents to Wikileaks, was charged with giving the whistleblower website documents pertaining to the U.S. military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and also a controversial cache of State Department cables. He has been in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, for the last nine months. Describing the confinement as “illegal and immoral,” and under “degrading and inhumane conditions” that violate the U.S. constitution, Tribe joined numerous peers to argue that if Manning's harsh treatment was continued by the Pentagon, it may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture, defined as, “the administration or application…of… procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.” Numerous other groups and prominent individuals have called on the Pentagon to end it, some controversially. Last month, the former U.S. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, highest-profile casualty over the Manning affair thus far, resigned after calling the Pentagon's actions “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”. Crowley argued that the manner of Manning's detention had “undermined the investigation into his role as the alleged source for Wikileaks”.

Bradley Manning's routine in the Quantico military facility confines him to his cell for 23 hours a day, the legal specialists wrote. They said during the remaining hour, he was only permitted to walk in circles in another room, with no contact with any person whatsoever. Manning was also banned from dozing or relaxing during the day, subjected to constant monitoring, and during the past week he was said to have been “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”. This is is illegal under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits punishment without trial.

The letter, written by Yale law school professor Bruce Ackerman and Harvard law school professor Yochai Benkler, said the Obama administration had supplied no evidence that Manning's treatment reflected any concern for his own safety or that of other inmates, and “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.”  The letter appears in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books and was also published online in March, where it attracted 295 signatories.

Sources: The Hindu and The Yale Daily News

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