Friday, August 23, 2013

 

Al Jazeera: Justice in a ‘Nation of Laws’


In 2011, President Obama gave a statement to the press when questioned by a Manning sympathiser. "We are a nation of laws," he said. "We don't let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. [Manning] broke the law." 

Notably, "we are a nation of laws" is the same initial response Obama gave in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The reminder that we are a nation of laws serves to keep us from asking whether we are a nation of justice.

Manning reacted to war crimes as a citizen seeking reconciliation between law and justice. She wanted the American government to follow its own legal and moral precepts.

This is not an extreme position, nor is it a particularly libertarian one. It asks that those who abuse their power be held accountable. It asks that institutions - like the government and the military - behave as moral entities and take responsibility for the actions of their cruelest, most incompetent members.

But when institutions are eroding from within, far more offensive is the person who brings this fact to light. Manning's 35-year sentence is more than that of other perceived enemies of the state, including John Walker Lindh, who received 20 years after fighting alongside the Taliban.


Read: Justice in a 'Nation of Laws': The Manning verdict (Al Jazeera, 8/22/2013)

…responding to Manning with a simple "She broke the law" negates the role of justice. What does it mean when those who expose war crimes are treated more harshly than those who perpetrate them - or those who manipulate the law to justify them?

One does not need to like Manning to be appalled by what she revealed. One does not need to approve of her actions to be appalled by their necessity. The question is not whether Manning broke the law. It is whether the law is broken.



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