I. Those of us here who have been attempting to get our elected officials to investigate the inhumane, illegal and unconstitutional pre-trial detention abuse of Army PFC Bradley Manning at the Marine Corps Base Quantico brig, should redouble our efforts, now that the New York Review of Books has decided to print a letter by Bruce Ackerman, of Yale Law School and Yochai Benkler, of Harvard Law School, with 295 co-signatories. The letter will be in their April 28th print edition, but is already getting wide notice on the web.

The letter has been around at the blog Balkanization, quietly gathering important signatures, for about four weeks, but it became much more widely discussed after The Guardian carried a short interview Sunday with one of the co-signatories, Laurence Tribe.  Tribe has been cited by Obama as a formative influence while the latter was his student at Harvard Law School.  There is a lot of material, dating back to mid-2007, when Tribe became one of Obama’s earliest and most ardent advocates, connecting the two together, with the praise going both ways.  Here’s Tribe being interviewed by the Harvard Crimson, on election day, 2008:

Tribe also emphasized the challenges that Obama would face should he win today’s election—“problems of such staggering complexity that they dwarf those confronted by any president since FDR in 1932,” which he said included “our economy in meltdown, our military stretched to the breaking point, the power of our example in the world at a nadir, our environment and our politics poisoned, our Constitution threatened, and our trust betrayed.”

Despite his avowed disappointment in the conduct of the American government in recent years—specifically regarding its use of torture—Tribe concluded his remarks with a sentimental evocation of his pride in becoming a naturalized American citizen, and his respect for the Constitution that “guarantees our freedom to challenge the practices that bring us shame—and to vote for a changed government.”

The Guardian interview shows a profoundly disappointed mentor:

He told the Guardian he signed the letter because Manning appeared to have been treated in a way that “is not only shameful but unconstitutional” as he awaits court martial in Quantico marine base in Virginia.

II. The Ackerman/Benkler letter, and its coverage by The Guardian couldn’t have come at a better time for those of us trying to get Alaska Sen. Mark Begich to use his position on the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee, to look into Manning’s abuse.  I’ve gotten co-signators to ask Begich to do this, and just over a month ago, his chief of staff, David Ramseur, wrote back to me, stating:

Phil:

We got the letter and Senator Begich will have it today, if he doesn’t already. We’ll get you a response shortly.

Thanks – David

I never got a letter, but, apparently, Sen. Begich sent one on March 10th to my physical address, which has never been able to receive U.S. mail.  Where it ended up, I have no idea.  I’ve never used my physical address in any correspondence with Begich’s U.S. Senate staff, and his Wasilla office (I left my card there when I delivered my open letter there in early March) and campaign staff had oodles of information on my post office box address, much of it from our checks they so gladly cashed in the 2008 campaign.

Julie Hasquet, Begich’s press secretary just sent me a pdf of the March 10th letter, which I’ve transcribed below:

March 10, 2011

Mr. Philip Munger

Dear Mr. Munger:

Thank you for contacting me concerning the conditions of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia.  As you know, Private Manning was arrested in May 2010 on charges of transferring and communicating classified data and national defense information to an unauthorized source.

Because of the seriousness of these charges and the potential length of sentence, Private Manning is being held as a maximum security detainee with precautionary restrictions to prevent self-injury.  While I understand there has been no evidence presented that Private Manning is suicidal, under the circumstances, I believe there may be justifications for what are described by the Marines as non-punitive precautionary restrictions in accordance with brig rules.

Of course, pending a trial and conviction on the allegations made against him, Private Manning has the same presumption of being innocent until proven guilty all Americans in custody enjoy.  Even if he were to be convicted, I would expect his jailers to carry out his incarceration with the appropriate level of personal dignity and fair treatment that anyone in an American penal institution should be accorded.  As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will work to ensure his treatment is properly and regularly reviewed, and that any inappropriate treatment is not tolerated.

Again, thank you for contacting me regarding this matter.  Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Mark Begich

United States Senator

How fatuous is that, eh?  I’ve sent his chief of staff and press secretary links to the Ackerman/Benkler letter, and to this Youtube I made Saturday, of former Democratic Party Alaska U.S. senator Mike Gravel, appealing to current Democratic Party U.S. senator Mark Begich, to do his sworn duty, instead of fucking around like he seems to be doing:

How can we get through to these jerks, other than keep on pushing and pushing, before there’s nothing left of our Constitution to protect?