A nation of laws tortures anyone? (Updates)

Update (4.24.2011)

Glenn Greenwald’s gloss on Obama’s Manning statement contained in the video above has Greenwald taking Obama to task for his legally dubious behavior:

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,” said the Queen of Hearts to Alice in Wonderland.

POLITICO suggests that Obama had what can be characterized as a Reagan Moment, that is, an instance in which the President of the United States utters nonsense or makes claims contrary to law and fact.

Update II (4.25.2011)

Kevin Zeese has provided an elaborate discussion of the problem with Obama’s Reagan Moment:

The credibility of the military justice system is being undermined by the prosecution of Bradley Manning. His abusive punishment without trial violates his due process rights; his harsh treatment in solitary confinement-torture conditions violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment; and now the commander-in-chief has announced his guilt before trial making a fair trial impossible. A Bradley Manning exception to the Bill of Rights is developing as the Obama administration seeks Manning’s punished no matter what constitutional protections they violate.

Zeese continues:

President Obama’s pronouncement about Manning, “He broke the law,” amounts to unlawful command influence – something prohibited in military trials because it is devastating to the military justice system.  Manning will be judged by a jury of military officers in a military court where everyone involved follows the orders of the commander-in-chief.  How are these officers going to rule against their commander-in-chief, especially after Manning has been tortured in solitary confinement for almost a year?  Any officer who finds Manning “not guilty” will have no chance of advancing his career after doing so.

Article 37 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice makes undo command influence unlawful. Unlawful Command Influence has been called “the carcinoma of the military justice system” and is often described as “the mortal enemy of military justice.” The importance of the command structure in the military makes command influence a threat to fair trails, i.e. “because the inherent power and influence of command are necessary and omnipresent facets of military life, everyone involved in both unit command and in military justice must exercise constant vigilance to protect against command influence becoming unlawful.”

Accordingly, “Unlawful Command Influence occurs when senior personnel, wittingly or unwittingly, have acted to influence court members, witnesses, or others participating in military justice cases. Such unlawful influence not only jeopardizes the validity of the judicial process, it undermines the morale of military members, their respect for the chain of command, and public confidence in the military.”  Further, even: “The ‘appearance of unlawful command influence is as devastating to the military justice system as the actual manipulation of any given trial.’”  The commander-in-chief announcing guilt before trial is an unprecedented case of unlawful command influence.

So, what effect will these legal rules have on the disposition of Manning’s case? They are likely to have no effect at all.

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