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250 legal experts protest at Manning ‘torture’
What became of Obama, they ask, once an ‘eloquent moral leader’ but now sanctioning ill-treatment?|
By Venetia Rainey
LAST UPDATED 11:11 AM, APRIL 11, 2011
More than 250 US legal experts have put their names to an open letter decrying the inhumane and illegal treatment of Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with leaking confidential documents to whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
The letter, published in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, repeats the widely circulated allegations that Manning is being subjected to enforced nudity, solitary confinement, and sleep deprivation.
The Army justifies this treatment by claiming it is standard for a prisoner under suicide watch. But the claims of inhumane treatment have proved serious enough for the UN to be investigating the US government for torture charges.
The letter, written by two esteemed law professors, Bruce Ackerman of Yale and Yochai Benkler of Harvard, states that Manning's treatment is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial.
Private Manning, who is being held at Quantico marine base in Virginia, has been detained for more than eight months without trial. He has been charged on 34 counts - including "aiding the enemy", which carries a death penalty - for his alleged involvement in the leaking of 250,000 secret US embassy cables to Wikileaks.
The letter is the latest in a series of high-profile calls questioning the point of Manning's prolonged and extraordinary detention. "If Manning is guilty of a crime," the letter says, "let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law. But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
The letter is also signed by the second most prominent person to speak out about the Manning case, Harvard professor and former legal advisor to President Obama, Laurence Tribe. Echoing former US state spokesperson PJ Crowley's accusation that it is "counterproductive and stupid", Tribe told the Guardian that it is "not only shameful but unconstitutional".
The letter puts the blame squarely on Obama's shoulders, saying that whilst he was once "a professor of constitutional law... an eloquent moral leader", there are now questions over whether his conduct meets "fundamental standards of decency". Obama has continuously denied any mistreatment of Manning, publicly asserting that it is "appropriate and meets our basic standards".