Guilt By Proclamation: Obama Violates Federal Rules By Declaring Bradley Manning Guilty

President Barack Obama this week stepped over the line of both protocol and ethics by publicly declaring Bradley Manning guilty of crimes. During a speech, Obama stated Manning “broke the law” to an audience in an act that could be challenged as undue command influence in the military system and violates a long-standing rule of presidents refraining from prejudicing trials. Manning is accused of being the source for the wikileaks material, which have shown that the Administration and prior Administrations have lied to the American people in various areas of policy.

The President’s comments came after protesters interrupted one of his speeches. He stated:

“I have to abide by certain classified information,” Obama said on a video that quickly began to circulate among media outlets Friday. “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law. … We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate. … He broke the law.”

Remarkably, I have not seen any corrective statement from the White House. In litigating within the military system, one of the greatest concerns is undue command influence. This was a big issue in the Dan King espionage case that I handled as lead defense counsel at Quantico. Here is Article 37:

Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)


(a) 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 foregoing provisions of the subsection shall not apply with respect to

(1) general instructional or informational courses in military justice if such courses are designed solely for the purpose of instructing members of a command in the substantive and procedural aspects of courts-martial, or

(2) to statements and instructions given in open court by the military judge, president of a special court-martial, or counsel.

(b) In the preparation of an effectiveness, fitness, or efficiency report on any other report or document used in whole or in part for the purpose of determining whether a member of the armed forces is qualified to be advanced, in grade, or in determining the assignment or transfer of a member of the armed forces or in determining whether a member of the armed forces should be retained on active duty, no person subject to this chapter may, in preparing any such report (1) consider or evaluate the performance of duty of any such member, as counsel, represented any accused before a court-martial.

It is likely that a military court would reject an undue command influence challenge, but that does not take away the unfairness to the defendant. The military jurors, or members, are under the command of Obama as commander and chief. Obama is poisoning the jury pool with such statements and as a lawyer (let alone a law professor) he should be ashamed.

By the way, Obama does not seem nearly so committed to the rule of law for Bush officials, including Bush himself, who are accused of war crimes. When it came to those crimes, Obama has blocked criminal investigations, let alone prosecutions. “He broke the law” is not sufficient for Obama when the political costs of prosecution make application of the law too inconvenient.

Source: Politico

Jonathan Turley

50 thoughts on “Guilt By Proclamation: Obama Violates Federal Rules By Declaring Bradley Manning Guilty”

  1. OS,

    It’s already answered….. It’s an active investigation and the government does not have to release squat….. You should know that as a forensics examiner…… If in your investigation you find out if information you give it to the investigator and they run the leads down…… That’s exactly what they are doing here…… Except in this case, I seem to recall hundreds of thousands of documents are still being held in que…… They want to know where they are kept…. And no one’s talking…… I believe they can claim national security……. Wouldn’t it be odd if they were deemed enemy combatants and they were executed on American soil……

    I still think assange is being harassed…… And that it was great that he has asked a south American country for political assylum……

    FWIW, Manning gave up his constitutional rights when he enlisted……

  2. Gene, there is a heck of a lot of difference between being the suspected recipient of classified information and being part of a group that is giving moral and/or financial support for his legal defense.

    That means that even this tidbit of blog conversation could conceivably place us in the cross-hairs of some concrete-minded Second Lieutenant in the Army intelligence service.

  3. OS,

    I’m not 100% on this one, but since the issue is Manning in his capacity as a member of the military sharing classified information with outside sources that USACIDC can assert proper jurisdiction to investigate any and all people Manning may have shared information with which could include members of the public normally outside military jurisdiction as Manning himself is the prime and proper focus of their jurisdiction, but I’ll have to admit it certainly looks like it stretches the limits of Posse Comitatus on the surface.

  4. In the words of the famous Ronco ads, “But wait, there’s more….”

    Seems the Army has the loosely organized group set up to support Private Bradley Manning under surveillance and investigation. Barrett Brown is one of the more public faces for the shadow group Anonymous. Barrett just posted this story on Daily Kos, with the title: “Bradley Manning Support Network Under Investigation By U.S. Army”

    Here is a link to the story:

    Would one of the Constitutional scholars on this blawg tell me just how is this legal? You probably have heard of that Constitution thingee. It is a quaint document written a couple of hundred years ago that is largely ignored these days.


    Bradley Manning’s Trial To Begin September 21

    Presiding Judge, Colonel Denise Lind, order prosecution to present official “damage assessment” reports

    – Common Dreams staff

    UPDATE: Military judge Colonel Denise Lind said Wednesday morning that military prosecutors and Manning’s defense team had decided on a tentative trial schedule beginning September 21 and lasting through October 12. The trial will start more than two years after Manning was arrested.

    Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, Maryland. Judge Colonel Denise Lind makes order to determine the level of damage to US from leak of state secrets to WikiLeaks. (Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images) The judge ruled against a motion filed by defense attorney David Coombs to dismiss all the charges because of what he called the prosecutor’s intentional withholding of evidence needed to prepare Manning’s defense.

    “The court finds no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct,” Lind said.

  6. Thanks to Glenn Greenwald for his article, appropriately published on July 4th, IMO.


    Adrian Lamo has no relevance either for the Manning case or anything else, but just to underscore how thoroughly unreliable and deranged he is — that, as I’ve documented repeatedly before, what comes out of his mouth at any given moment is designed exclusively to generate attention for himself and bears almost no relationship to reality — just contrast what he’s quoted as saying about Manning in this New York article with what he told me in an interview last year:

    New York:

    When Lamo was arrested, he’d been offended by the government prosecution– “criminalizing curiosity,” he called it. Now he was offended by Manning. “He’s a traitor at best,” Lamo said. . . . He was disgusted by the way in which Manning conflated his own precious moral awakening with the future of U.S. diplomacy. The leaks could “compromise our ability to make the world a better place, which we do in a lot of ways,” Lamo later said.

    Interview with me:

    GREENWALD: Do you consider Bradley Manning to be a traitor? I had seen you use that word in a couple interviews that you did.

    LAMO: Can you cite one so I can double-check and make sure it’s a direct quote?

    GREENWALD: Yeah. I think the quote was, “I’m not a traitor, and I wasn’t going to harbor a traitor.” And it was unclear, I mean, the context was you were asked why. So I didn’t know if you meant that, that’s why I’m asking in an open-ended way, regardless of what you’ve said in the past: Do you think he’s a traitor?

    LAMO: Well, in that case, I regret that statement. I don’t think he’s a traitor. I think. He did something not too different from what I did: break the law to accomplish what he believed to be a good purpose, and I apologized to a judge in tears for that, and I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t still believe that it was wrong now.

    There are many people in this case whose actions are disturbed, twisted, and unjust. Bradley Manning is most assuredly not one of them.


    Honoring Those Who Said No


    Published: April 27, 2011

    IN January 2004, Spec. Joseph M. Darby, a 24-year-old Army reservist in Iraq, discovered a set of photographs showing other members of his company torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The discovery anguished him, and he struggled over how to respond. “I had the choice between what I knew was morally right, and my loyalty to other soldiers,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t have it both ways.”

    So he copied the photographs onto a CD, sealed it in an envelope, and delivered the envelope and an anonymous letter to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. Three months later — seven years ago today — the photographs were published. Specialist Darby soon found himself the target of death threats, but he had no regrets. Testifying at a pretrial hearing for a fellow soldier, he said that the abuse “violated everything I personally believed in and all I’d been taught about the rules of war.”

    He was not alone. Throughout the military, and throughout the government, brave men and women reported abuse, challenged interrogation directives that permitted abuse, and refused to participate in an interrogation and detention program that they believed to be unwise, unlawful and immoral. The Bush administration’s most senior officials expressly approved the torture of prisoners, but there was dissent in every agency, and at every level.

    There are many things the Obama administration could do to repair some of the damage done by the last administration, but among the simplest and most urgent is this: It could recognize and honor the public servants who rejected torture.

    In the thousands of pages that have been made public about the detention and interrogation program, we hear the voices of the prisoners who were tortured and the voices of those who inflicted their suffering. But we also hear the voices of the many Americans who said no.

    Some of these voices belong to people whose names have been redacted from the public record. In Afghanistan, soldiers and contractors recoiled at interrogation techniques they witnessed. After seeing a prisoner beaten by a mysterious special forces team, one interpreter filed an official complaint. “I was very upset that such a thing could happen,” she wrote. “I take my responsibilities as an interrogator and as a human being very seriously.”

    Similarly, after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told interrogators that they could hold Guantánamo prisoners in “stress positions,” barrage them with strobe lights and loud music, and hold them in freezing-cold cells, F.B.I. agents at the naval base refused to participate in the interrogations and complained to F.B.I. headquarters.

    But some of the names we know. When Alberto J. Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, learned of the interrogation directive that Mr. Rumsfeld issued at Guantánamo, he campaigned to have it revoked, arguing that it was “unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Guantánamo prosecutors resigned rather than present cases founded on coerced evidence. One, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch of the Marines, said the abuse violated basic religious precepts of human dignity. Another, Lt. Col. Darrel J. Vandeveld of the Army, filed an affidavit in support of the child prisoner he had been assigned to prosecute.

    There were dissenters even within the C.I.A. Early in 2003, the agency’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson, began an investigation after agents in the field expressed concern that the agency’s secret-site interrogations “might involve violations of human rights.” Mr. Helgerson, a 30-year agency veteran, was himself a kind of dissenter: in 2004 he sent the agency a meticulously researched report documenting some of the abuses that had taken place in C.I.A.-run prisons, questioning the wisdom and legality of the policies that had led to those abuses, and characterizing some of the agency’s activities as inhumane. Without his investigation and report, the torture program might still be operating today.

    Thus far, though, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not those who rejected it. In December 2004, as the leadership of the C.I.A. was debating whether to destroy videotapes of prisoners being waterboarded in the agency’s secret prisons, President Bush bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director who had signed off on the torture sessions. In 2006, the Army major general who oversaw the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo was given the Distinguished Service Medal. One of the lawyers responsible for the Bush administration’s “torture memos” received awards from the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency.

    President Obama has disavowed torture, but he has been unenthusiastic about examining the last administration’s interrogation policies. He has said the country should look to the future rather than the past. But averting our eyes from recent history means not only that we fail in our legal and moral duty to provide redress to victims of torture, but also that we betray the public servants who risked so much to reverse what they knew was a disastrous and shameful course.
    Those who stayed true to our values and stood up against cruelty are worthy of a wide range of civilian and military commendations, up to and including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Honoring them is a way of encouraging the best in our public servants, now and in the future. It is also a way of honoring the best in ourselves.

    Jameel Jaffer is a deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. Larry Siems is the director of the Freedom to Write program at the PEN American Center

  8. Glenn Greenwald: Obama’s Comments on Bradley Manning Mark “Amazing Amount of Improper Influence” in WikiLeaks Case
    Democracy Now, 4/29/2011


    JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell appeared on MSNBC and defended the military’s treatment of Bradley Manning.

    GEOFF MORRELL: The issue for him really is, he’s being held in the manner he’s being held because of the sever-–the seriousness of the charges he’s facing, the potential length of sentence, the national security implications, and also the potential harm to him that he could do to himself or from others, frankly, you know, who are being imprisoned there, if he were allowed to mix with the general population. So this is as much for his own good as it is because of the charges.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, this was from last month. Your response?

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it’s just interesting, because he’s basically acknowledging that they’re using improper means. I mean, the idea that the seriousness of the offense warrants oppressive conditions is a violation in the law. The Uniform Military Code of Justice says you can’t punish people using pretrial detention. But the interesting thing is the justification for what they were doing to him was we need to do this to protect himself from himself and from other Marines and other people in the population. And yet, now, suddenly, they’re claiming that he’s going to be able to interact with the general population more. So what happened to all of those alleged concerns that they had that necessitated keeping him in isolation? They were clearly pretext.

    AMY GOODMAN: What about what President Obama said in San Francisco? He was at a fundraiser. It was disrupted by people deeply concerned about what’s happening to Bradley Manning. He didn’t know he was being recorded. I think it was on a cell phone, and he said something like, “Well, he broke the law.”

    GLENN GREENWALD: One of the cardinal rules of 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. And amazingly, even 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.” And John Mitchell knew that was inappropriate, that you can’t do that, and forced Nixon to retract it. Here, it’s much worse for Obama to do 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 on the military process.

  9. “We’re a nation of laws.” -President Barack Obama

    All kidding aside, something like the following would be more accurate, IMO:

    We’re not a nation of laws. We pretend that that we are, but we aren’t — the “rule of law” is but an illusion. It only applies to some and, even then, one never knows. It’s an arbitrary system, so it pays to be careful.

    It’s best to learn this at a young age — it should be taught in our schools. America is the land of the not-so-free. We put on a good face but, at our core, we’re as corrupt as any third-world country. Play by a set of arbitrary rules and maybe — and it’s a big maybe — you’ll be all right.

    Proceed at your own risk here in America.

  10. Thelastpatriot wrote:


    9/11 aside, our government, police forces, and the list goes on and on… are awash with criminals. The first couple of stories on the blog today, as well as a comment about resort communties in CO, are but tiny examples. Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the story, but it may well be.

    Whistleblowers are marginalized, “neutralized”, imprisoned, and/or forced to undergo psychological evaluations, while Dick Cheney and his sociopathic ilk are doing just fine and, even, thriving.

    As a nation, I fear that we have neither the stomach nor the will to do what’s right and necessary to reclaim this country. I hope that I’m wrong.

  11. This is such wonderful news. YES this is LEGALLY BINDING, and YES, OBAMA..being the commander and cheif of the armed forces, HAS BROKEN THE LAW..AGAIN

    This kid needs to be freed. Although, who even believes anything wikileaks releases anyway?

    Wikileaks this week said “secret documents” tell a different story about UBL’s escape. Do you really believe UBL got away because ” we didnt have eyes on him?

    Well, let me tell you something, WE DID HAVE EYES ON HIM IN TORA BORA. CIA SAID….DO NOT KILL OR CAPTURE.You do what you are told. WHy did the CIA save UBL? Because he didnt blow up the towers.

  12. Dear public:

    Why should anything apply to anything?

    As a nation with, what, several hundred years under our belt, we should collectively and legislatively move on from the outdated dogma and starry-eyed statements about “privacy”,”liberty” and “freedom.”

    It is (from what we’ve been told) a new millenium, and as such, should be subject only to what has been legislated since the year 2000 or 2001, whichever one it is that actually started the new millenium.

    If we are to become a truly great nation, we need to throw off the chains of freedom, which have held many of us back (especially those of us in Washington) from achieving the level of intrusion and paranoia this country so richly deserves.


    Your “Representatives” in Washington

    [Note: Please have an intern strike quotes around Representatives. THX.]

  13. mike a

    that was my thought. can anyone expect a fair trial after the potus has announced that you’re guilty.

    if anyone ever really expected a fair trial

  14. Release of information indicating that he was essentially guilty without a criminal charge or a trial was one of the reasons that the government paid Dr. Stephen Hatfill $5.8 Million and it is part of my claims against the government too (that the government basically declared I was “guilty” of being a vexatious litigant).

    All of DOJ’s official press releases about pending criminal prosecutions contain a disclaimer that one is presumed innocent etc.

  15. A query to military lawyers or anyone with JAG experience: do the President’s statements provide grounds for dismissal of the charges?

  16. Just when I thought my opinion of the President could not be deflated any further…

Comments are closed.