Private Manning and the Law Professors

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6 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    Thomas, perhaps this is a stupid question, but can you explain how you know that President Obama made these remarks in response to a question about the conditions of Manning’s pre-trial detention? You say that he did, and some bloggers have made that claim. But as far as I can tell, the original video of him saying this is only a 66-second excerpt in which we hear Obama discussing the Manning case *generally* but without inclusion of the question that Obama was asked to which he was responding.

    Here’s the video, which apparently was taken at some sort of fundraiser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IfmtUpd4id0

    If we assume that Obama was asked about the conditions of Manning’s pre-trial detention, and this 66-second clip is Obanma’s response, then I agree Obama’s response is troubling (indeed, rather nonsensical). But if we assume that Obama was asked why Manning is being *prosecuted*, then this 66-second clip becomes a rather unexceptional.

    Perhaps I am being too quick to defend Obama. But I’d be interested to know how you know what the question was that Obama was responding to, which I think is important to assessing his statement,

  2. Incidentally, the letter, while initiated by the aforementioned law professors, wasn’t only signed by law professors, although no doubt it was their names and areas of expertise which gave the letter whatever weight it might have possessed.

  3. TJ says:

    I think you are stretching the principle too far. The principle that “accused criminals are innocent until proven otherwise” is invoked when applying punishment. President Obama is perfectly free to say that Manning is guilty, just like the prosecutor (who is going to be, after all, Obama’s subordinate) is free to do so. The problem occurs not because of what Obama says, but the fact that Obama is already applying the punishment. But picking on Obama’s language detracts from the bigger point.

  4. Joe says:

    “is perfectly free to say that Manning is guilty”

    apparently not. Nixon got in trouble saying Manson was guilty. The idea him saying it changes the ball game is pretty lame, imho, since it is not as if we don’t know what he believes. Manning’s treatment underlines this. But, he is legally innocent now and the prosecutor can’t say otherwise. The prosecutor can ask the jury or judge to declare him guilty, but that’s it. Manning’s (mis)treatment is much more important.

  5. Thomas Crocker says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments. Yes, Oren, I think you raise a good point. The video does not let us hear the precise context, and context matters. So, the question about how the President views the innocent until proven guilty principle may be avoided with better context. Your question can first point out the difficulty of taking “unofficial” journalism at face value. I accepted the presentation Glenn Greenwald provided for the video and went immediately into contemplative mode about it. There is also the lingering worry about making too much over off-hand comments made in conversation (they are not official positions, though sometimes they are taken as more indicative of a person’s actual views). But, accepting the less exceptional version–that the President was responding to a question not about Manning’s detention, but about his prosecution–my questions about the other sentence that constructs the relation between a “we” and the “individual” remains. That was the sentence I thought worth contemplating further. I suppose I may not have a clear argument here, but my interest was in Ackerman/Benkler’s invocation of Obama’s status as a law professor, the shared knowledge about the law that status imputes, and the choices he has made regarding treatment of Manning. These all relate to the identity claim of the “we” and the “individuals” Obama makes, or so I thought it worth thinking about. And, I don’t think they depend on a strong claim about the context of what Obama was asked, since they focus on the interestingly ambiguous middle sentence.

    Patrick, you are absolutely right. I do not mean at all to slight the involvement of philosophers and others. Mea culpa if I did. I was playing on Ackerman/Benkler’s search for common ground with Obama as law professors.

  6. Orin Kerr says:

    Thanks, Thomas.