25 April 2011

America as Omelas

I know some readers of this blog are tired of my posting articles about Bradley Manning, but it's a topic that just doesn't go away.  The Guardian notes that 250 legal scholars have now signed a letter condemning the humiliation of this unconvicted, untried prisoner -
More than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting against the treatment in military prison of the alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, contesting that his "degrading and inhumane conditions" are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

The list of signatories includes Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America's foremost liberal authority on constitutional law. He taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign...

Tribe said the treatment was objectionable "in the way it violates his person and his liberty without due process of law and in the way it administers cruel and unusual punishment of a sort that cannot be constitutionally inflicted even upon someone convicted of terrible offences, not to mention someone merely accused of such offences"...

Tribe is the second senior figure with links to the Obama administration to break ranks over Manning. Last month, PJ Crowley resigned as state department spokesman after deriding the Pentagon's handling of Manning as "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid".

The intervention of Tribe and hundreds of other legal scholars is a huge embarrassment to Obama, who was a professor of constitutional law in Chicago. Obama made respect for the rule of law a cornerstone of his administration, promising when he first entered the White House in 2009 to end the excesses of the Bush administration's war on terrorism...

In a stinging rebuke to Obama, they say "he was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency".

Benkler told the Guardian: "It is incumbent on us as citizens and professors of law to say that enough is enough. We cannot allow ourselves to behave in this way if we want America to remain a society dedicated to human dignity and process of law."
Those unfamiliar with the allusion I used in the title of this piece are invited to read Ursula LeGuin's brilliant short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas*," the theme of which she based on a theme expressed by William James:
"Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?"
* p.s. - she came up with the name of the city when she saw a road sign for Salem, Oregon in her car's rear-view mirror (!).  You learn something every day.


  1. The following was attributed (without a cite) to Daniel Ellsberg by a commenter on Steve Benen's blog:

    "For several years, we've understood that President Obama is a former community organizer, that that's very far behind him, just as I'm a former Cold Warrior. And really, in connection with the expansion of these wars, but especially with human rights in general, the detention and the state secrets, the rendition and the torture in Iraq and the torture of an American citizen here in Virginia, we see that President Obama is a former constitutional scholar."


    Oh, and just to add insult to injury, in response to a question about Manning at a recent town hall, Obama said, "He broke the law."

    So much for the presumption of innocence from our president.

    --Swift Loris

  2. Swift, re Obama's comment, see Greenwald's column -


  3. As far as I am concerned, it is not possible to post too much about this travesty of "justice". Please feel free to continue.

  4. Yup, Minnesotastan, Greenwald's column is where I first read about this. And as Greenwald points out, Manning will be tried (if they ever decide to get around to trying him) by a military court, which is under Obama's direct authority as commander in chief.

    It's all really just unspeakable.

    --Swift Loris


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