Obama cynically claims the U.S. is ‘a nation of laws’

In response to a question raised at a fundraiser in San Francisco last week about the detention and abusive treatment of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, President Obama said, “We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our decisions about how the laws operate.” Referring specifically to PFC Manning, Obama stated flatly: “He broke the law.”

Besides the impropriety of the President of the United States declaring the guilt of a suspect before that individual has even had a day in court, it is really the height of cynicism for Obama to claim that as “a nation of laws,” Manning must be punished for what he has allegedly done.

Accused of leaking thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks that provide abundant evidence of criminal wrongdoing at all levels of government, including spying on UN officials in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as well as the commission of brazen war crimes in Iraq, as revealed in the “Collateral Murder” video, Manning has been held in punitive solitary confinement conditions for nine months.

Just today, newspapers published reports based on new documents WikiLeaks has provided, which show that the military has been knowingly holding innocent people for years on end at the Guantanamo detention facility. As the Telegraph reported today,

Only about 220 of the people detained are assessed by the Americans to be dangerous international terrorists. A further 380 people are lower-level foot-soldiers, either members of the Taliban or extremists who travelled to Afghanistan whose presence at the military facility is questionable.

At least a further 150 people are innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs and drivers who were rounded up or even sold to US forces and transferred across the world. In the top-secret documents, senior US commanders conclude that in dozens of cases there is “no reason recorded for transfer”. …

About 20 juveniles, including a 14-year old boy have been held at Guantanamo. Several pensioners, including an 89 year old with serious health problems were incarcerated.

Guantanamo has been criticized for violating international law since its opening in January 2002, when the Bush administration announced that it was waiving the prisoners’ Geneva Convention protections. Bush claimed that the prisoners were unlawful enemy combatants not protected as prisoners of war.

On Feb. 8, 2002, the International Committee of the Red Cross disputed this claim, saying that both the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were prisoners of war fully protected by the Geneva Conventions. “They were captured in combat (and) we consider them prisoners of war,” ICRC spokesperson Darcy Christen told Reuters.

Shortly after taking office  Obama signed an executive order promising to close Guantanamo within a year. He then broke his promise by delaying the closure of the prison, and even extended the worst aspects of the Guantanamo system by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, employing illegitimate military commissions, and blocking accountability for torture.

One of the reasons given by Obama for not trying the Guantanamo suspects in civil courts is that some of their confessions may have been extracted through torture, and thus considered inadmissible in any traditional court of law.

“This is Obama’s Guantánamo now,” says the Center for Constitutional Rights. “He has failed in his pledge to close the island prison from a lack of leadership and by bowing to political pressure. He should not have failed to say that innocent people have been imprisoned there for years, or failed to move quickly to charge people in federal courts. The transparency we were promised has been discarded.”

CCR also points out that the prison camp and the treatment of prisoners there violates a host of international and domestic laws:

The Obama administration has not stopped grave psychological and physical abuses including torture at Guantánamo nor secured accountability for the well-documented torture authorized and committed by Bush administration officials. Not only do reports of systematic abuses—including forced tube-feedings and beatings by a team of military guards known as the Immediate Reaction Force—continue, but so does severe prolonged solitary confinement, a form of torture that leaves invisible psychological damage long after physical wounds heal.

Under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is considered a form of torture and is banned. Also, as noted by the UN Committee against Torture, indefinite detention itself constitutes torture and is a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. CCR published a report on abusive conditions of confinement at Guantánamo under Obama. Some of these abuses are ongoing and continue to violate U.S. and international human rights law.

Now, as Obama claims that as a “nation of laws” PFC Bradley Manning must be punished, it appears that the illegal tactics developed by the military at Guantanamo are being turned against this alleged whistleblower.

In response to last week’s decision to move Manning from the Quantico Marine Corps Brig to a medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Amnesty International said: “We hope that Manning’s conditions will significantly improve at Fort Leavenworth, but we will be watching how he is treated very closely.  His conditions at Quantico have been a breach of international standards for humane treatment of an untried prisoner.”

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Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/compliancecamp Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/compliancecamp Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at] gmail.com.

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