President Obama aggravated civil liberties advocates today, telling an activist that the detainment of alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning was justified because the former military analyst "broke the law." The comment came during a fundraising event in San Francisco and was caught on camera.
"We're a nation of laws," said the president. "We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law."
The backlash in the blogosphere was swift. "So much for that trial," wrote Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing: "This is vile," added Michael Whitney at Fire Dog Lake. "Apparently 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."
Brian Doherty at Reason says Obama has the constitutional scholar's greatest gift: "He can tell who is guilty just by lookin' at 'em."
Manning has been mostly held in isolation on suicide watch in Virginia and will be moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Though he hasn't been convicted, he has 22 charges against him, which include aiding the enemy. It's worth noting that Manning's supporters do believe he leaked the documents. So the debate over his actions really isn't so much about whether he did them or not rather about whether he should be prosecuted. Here's the video of Obama's remarks followed by a rough transcript:
OBAMA: 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?]
OBAMA: What he did was he dumped…
[Q: Isn't that just the same thing as what Daniel Ellsberg did?]
OBAMA: No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.