Obama speaks on Manning and the rule of law

“We are a nation of laws.  We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates.  He [Bradley Manning] broke the law!” – President Obama

At a fundraising breakfast on Thursday, one of our activists was able to ask Obama publicly why he was prosecuting Bradley Manning.  The exchange, part of which can be seen in the video below, tells us a lot about the President’s attitude towards this case — specifically that he already considers Bradley to be guilty, despite the fact that he has seen neither judge nor jury.

Glen Greenwald a former litigator of constitutional law and blogger for Salon.com wrote today:

“The impropriety of Obama’s public pre-trial declaration of Manning’s guilt (“He broke the law”) is both gross and manifest. How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt? Numerous commentators have noted how egregiously wrong was Obama’s condemnation. Michael Whitney wrote: “the President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has yet to be tried or convicted for any crime.” BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza interpreted Obama’s declaration of guilt this way: “Just so you know, jurors subordinate judging officers!”

Could this affect Bradley’s legal proceedings?  Quite possibly.

“It may be that Obama spoke extemporaneously and without sufficient forethought, but it is — at best — reckless in the extreme for him to go around decreeing people guilty who have not been tried: especially members of the military who are under his command and who will be adjudged by other members of the military under his command. Moreover, as a self-proclaimed Constitutional Law professor, he ought to have an instinctive aversion when speaking as a public official to assuming someone’s guilt who has been convicted of nothing. It’s little wonder that he’s so comfortable with Manning’s punitive detention since he already perceives Manning as a convicted criminal. “Sentence first – verdict afterward.”

Similarly, Steven Aftergood, a classified information expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told Politico.com yesterday,

“The comment was not appropriate because it assumes that Manning is guilty. The president got carried away and misspoke. No one should mistake a charge for a conviction — especially the nation’s highest official.”

Other statements of interest from the conversation included the assertion that the even the president has to abide by the rules of classified information himself (a false statement given the his authority to declassify any documents he chooses) as well as the assumption that Bradley’s supposed crime is more severe than that of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam era.  However, the Pentagon Papers were considered “Top Secret” at the time, a much greater classification than anything that Bradley is accused of leaking. Read the full article from Salon.com here.

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