Tag Archives: daniel ellsberg

Michael Moore on Bradley Manning

Thanks to Code Pink for this video from Michael Moore’s book launch in New York last night (Tuesday), where he was asked about Bradley Manning.

What can we do to make sure Bradley Manning receives a fair trial?

That’s a very good question. I hope all of you know about Bradley Manning – if you don’t you should get on it tonight and read about it.  This is very sad that he’s taken the fall for doing something that, allegedly, he felt was right and good for the country.

In another era, Daniel Ellsberg was lauded for it.  In this era, Bradley Manning doesn’t have the support of the media that supported Daniel Ellsberg.  I think you need to write letters, if you’re not on the internet, I think you need to organise people to inform them of this… We have a problem because we have a media that does not want to respond to this.

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“I Am Bradley Manning”



A photo petition is now online and ready to take your submission. Contributions to date include Daniel Ellsberg, Peter Tatchell (whose wonderful piece on Bradley appeared in the New Statesman earlier this week) and former US servicemen.

Update

Courage to Resist is close to raising the $15,000 they need to rent a billboard in Washington DC to increase visibility of Bradley’s case when his Article 32 hearing (the military equivalent of a Grand Jury) begins. More on this here.

Billboard image

Coming soon to a prominent site in Washington, DC...

Update II

It took just three days to raise the $15,000 dollars needed to fund that billboard – no small feat.

Daniel Ellsberg and Eugene Fidell on “unlawful command influence”

The suspicion that Barack Obama may have prejudiced the legal process against Bradley Manning is not going away. “Unlawful command influence” is, essentially, the misuse of the military chain of command to influence a legal process that not only needs to be independent, but needs to be seen to be so. Here’s how UCI is defined under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the rules that govern how Bradley’s case will proceed:

ART. 37. UNLAWFULLY INFLUENCING ACTION OF COURT
No authority convening a general, special, or summary court-martial, nor any other commanding officer, may censure, reprimand, or admonish the court or any member, military judge, or counsel thereof, with respect to the findings or sentence adjudged by the court, or with respect to any other exercises of its or his functions in the conduct of the proceedings.
No person subject to this chapter may attempt to coerce or, by any unauthorized means, influence the action of a court-martial or any other military tribunal or any member thereof, in reaching the findings or sentence in any case, or the action of any convening, approving, or reviewing authority with respect to his judicial acts.

The logic of how command influence works in practice was well described by Daniel Ellsberg on Democracy Now yesterday (Tuesday). A transcription of what he said follows below:

Nearly everything the President has said represents a confusion about the state of the law and the extent of his responsibilities.

Everyone has focused on the fact that this commander-in-chief has virtually given a directed verdict to his subsequent jurors who will all be his subordinates in deciding guilt in the trial of Bradley Manning.

He has told them already that their commander, on whom their whole career depends, believes him as guilty and they can disagree with that only at their peril. In career terms it’s clearly enough grounds for a dismissal of the charges, as in my trial, which was dismissed eventually for government misconduct.

Elsewhere, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski (who broke this hugely important story back in January) reported on the “unlawful command authority” issue this morning. His piece breaks the following new ground:

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, a nonprofit group that promotes the fair administration of justice in the military system, told NBC News that the president’s remark “is unlawful command influence,” which includes an assumption of guilt.

“The president shouldn’t have said it. He should have been more circumspect,” Fidell said.

Eugene Fidell was also cited in the Politico piece last week, but this statement goes further in confirming that – in the opinion of an expert in military law – Obama’s words do indeed constitute unlawful command influence. Fidell goes on to remark that this is not necessarily a problem for the trial, provided that “potential jurors could be screened to ensure they are not aware of the remark.” Presumably, therefore, if there did prove to be difficulties finding jurors who were ignorant of what Obama said on Friday, then that could have serious implications for the viability of any prosecution. A high profile piece on NBC/MSNBC, needless to say, contributes towards that possibility, as does the continuing online coverage of what seems to be, in the eyes of just about everyone, a seriously misjudged Presidential remark.

Update

Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo (he resigned in 2007 amid allegations of political interference in the process) has written an Op-Ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on this subject in which he assesses the likely impact of Obama’s words to be rather serious:

In 1949, Gerald Ford, then a congressman from Michigan, described his firsthand experience with command influence when he served as a Navy officer in World War II. He said: “Too often a court-martial board does not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.” Instead, he recalled military jurors retiring to the deliberation room to ponder, “What does the Old Man [the commander] want us to do?”

When the jurors retire to the deliberation room at the Manning court-martial, they will not have to speculate on the answer; arguably the most important “Old Man” of them all has spoken, and he said Manning is guilty.

He also concludes strongly, warning of the danger for America’s moral integrity and external reputation when “the judicial process becomes a stage for political theater — when justice appears to be scripted rather than blind.”  The idea of a predetermined judicial process as a vehicle for “political theater” is one that should raise uncomfortable comparisons in anyone with a more than glancing knowledge of 20th century history.

Update II

A new MSNBC article has appeared this evening with a much more conservative spin (“Obama Comment Unlikely to Affect Outcome of Bradley Manning Trial”) and a new quote from Eugene Fidell:

“It will generate motions by the defense and will require some care in selecting the military members of the jury, a process already complicated by the extensive press coverage of this case,” Fidell said. “It was going to have to be a very careful questioning process for potential jurors, to ask if they have seen reports or read about the case. Now they’ll also have to be asked whether they heard the president’s comment and if that would make any difference to them. But that will be the extent of it, and they’ll get on with the trial.”

Update III

Glenn Greenwald, speaking on Democracy Now, has described Obama as exerting “an amazing amount of improper influence over the military process.”

One of the cardinal rules about being a President is that you don’t decree private citizens guilty of crimes before they’ve been adjudicated of having been convicted of a crime. Amazingly, John Mitchell – the most corrupt Attorney General in American history – knew that, because Richard Nixon once stood up in the middle of the Charles Manson trial, who everyone thought was guilty while the jurors were sequestered and said, “he’s killed eight people.” John Mitchell knew that that was inappropriate, that you can’t do that and forced Nixon toretract it.

Here it’s much worse for Obama do to that because Bradley Manning is a member of the military under his command. The people who will decide his guilt are inferior officers to Obama as Commander in Chief. It’s an amazing amount of over- and improper influence over the military process.

Barack Obama on Bradley Manning – “We’re a nation of laws!”

On Thursday morning Pacific Time, a group of Bradley Manning supporters staged a flashmob at a Barack Obama fundraising event in San Francisco. Even more amazingly, one of those supporters, Logan Price, was able to question the US President directly afterwards:

Here’s a close-to-verbatim account of what was said:

So people can have philosophical views [about Bradley Manning] but I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source [basis]… That’s not how the world works.

And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law.

We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

[Q: Didn’t he release evidence of war crimes?]

What he did was he dumped

[Q: Isn’t that just the same thing as what Daniel Ellsberg did?]

No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.

I suppose it’s reassuring to hear the US President reaffirming the importance of the rule of law (if not, unfortunately, the principle of innocent until proven guilty). Nevertheless, if “we don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate” maybe he should point this out to James Averhart, who decided off his own back that suicide watch could be used as a means of punishment rather than protection.

Barack Obama might also want to have a quiet word with Denise Barnes about the use of forced nudity as a punitive measure. The President may moreover find it worthwhile to talk to that “senior official” at Quantico who reportedly ruled back in January that Bradley Manning should never have his Prevention of Injury Order lifted, against the repeated recommendations of Quantico psychiatrists. This same official is quoted as saying: “We’ll do whatever we want.”

It seems increasingly evident that at least one civilian and at least one military official at the Pentagon has come to the conclusion that these three individuals and their – how should I put this? Interesting use of initiative? – now have the potential to cause them very serious problems indeed once David Coombs’ writ of habeas corpus receives due consideration. There is ample precedent in case law that members of the US military are entitled to due process in that they are presumed innocent until proven otherwise and that procedures for the relief of their conditions need to work in a fair way and not be subject to the predetermination of military authorities.

Not only do the acts of certain individuals at Quantico risk putting the entire legal process against Bradley Manning in jeopardy, should those inividuals be found to be at fault, there is a mechanism by which they may be found personally responsible. Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides that “Any person … who is guilty of cruelty toward, or oppression or maltreatment of, any person subject to his orders shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.” If the US is indeed a “nation of laws”, then they should have reason to be concerned.

(Many thanks to Marcy Wheeler whose close analysis of who has been saying what to whom provided the impetus for this post.)

Update I

A great piece has just been posted at WLCentral that takes a different – somewhat more pessimistic – slant on Obama’s words, noting that the US President is an individual who very much can “make decisions about how the law operates”:

Ideally, the US is a nation of laws but in reality it is not. The Executive Branch led by the President of the United States can choose what legal restrictions to abide by and what not to and it can choose what violations of the law to prosecute and what not to prosecute.

This being so, the author argues that when a figure with this kind of discretion openly dispenses with any sensitivity to the case being sub judice, the ramifications are very serious indeed:

Displaying this attitude that he is guilty before he actually is put on trial and convicted may prejudice Manning’s case. In the same way that criminal and civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz suggested former President George W. Bush was prejudicing the legal process against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange when he declared [he had] “willfully and repeatedly done great harm” and refused to participate in an event with Assange.

Update II

Michael Whitney at firedoglake clarifies that the writ of habeas corpus David Coombs was considering filing is now “moot” as a result of the move. Shame.

Update III

Barack Obama’s predetermination of the case against Bradley Manning is now being picked up by mainstream media outlets. CBS are now covering the story, the New York Daily News (whose record on reporting this case is not great) concede it “may have run afoul of Presidential protocol” and Politico actually cite a couple of commentators unafraid to take the President to task:

“The comment was not appropriate because it assumes that Manning is guilty,” Steven Aftergood, a classified information expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told POLITICO. “The president got carried away and misspoke. No one should mistake a charge for a conviction – especially the nation’s highest official.”

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and military law expert, predicted that before the end of the day the White House will have issued a corrective statement.

That “corrective statement” has yet to appear.

Update IV

An updated version of the Politico article includes a not-terribly-convincing response from the White House:

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama was in fact making a general statement that did not go specifically to the charges against Manning. “The president was emphasizing that, in general, the unauthorized release of classified information is not a lawful act,” he said Friday night. “He was not expressing a view as to the guilt or innocence of Pfc. Manning specifically.”

This is, to say the least, an interesting interpretation of the sentence “He broke the law.”

Politico then cite Steven Aftergood and Eugene Fidell on the likelihood of Obama’s comments having an influence on Manning’s court martial:

Aftergood and Fidell agreed that Obama’s remarks — while unfortunate — probably will not affect whether Manning will receive a fair trial. “It’s not that hard to ensure that unlawful command influence hasn’t in fact prejudiced the right to a fair trial,” Fidell explained. “If the case goes to a court marshal, the military court will have to make sure that none of the members of the military jury have been influenced by the president’s stated belief that Manning broke the law.”

It is not surprising that the White House is keen to play down this incident. Military case law indicates that “pretrial publicity itself may constitute unlawful command influence” (United States v. Simpson, 58 MJ 368) and, if this is raised at court martial, the US Government will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the case has not been prejudiced. (United States v. Reed, 65 M.J. 487) Should unlawful command influence be proven, incidentally, then dismissal of the case is possible “as a last resort.” (United States v. Douglas, 68 M.J. 349)

Update V

Glenn Greenwald has now written a typically excellent piece on all this, pointing out the hypocrisy of Obama calling the US a “nation of laws”:

…it’s long been clear that this is Obama’s understanding of “a nation of laws”: the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking — see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity — while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation’s lowest persona non grata group — accused Muslim Terrorists — are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. “Nation of laws” indeed.

Greenwald also draws attention to this interesting precedent of a US President pre-judging a criminal case. This example involves Richard Nixon and, as Greenwald points out, what Obama has done is arguably far worse:

Amazingly, this incident … is highly redolent of the time Richard Nixon publicly declared Charles Manson’s guilt before the accused mass murderer had been convicted. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, was at Nixon’s side when he did it and immediately recognized the impropriety of Nixon’s remarks, and the White House quickly issued a statement claiming that Nixon misspoke and meant merely to suggest Manson had been “charged” with these crimes, not that he was guilty of them. Obama’s decree was worse, of course, since (a) Obama has direct command authority over those who will judge Manning (unlike Nixon vis-a-vis Manson’s jurors); (b) Manson’s jurors were sequestered at the time and thus not exposed to Nixon’s proclamation; and (c) Obama is directly responsible for the severe punishment to which Manning has already been subjected (h/t lysias).