US Willing to Bomb Libya to Maintain UN Credibility, But Not Allow an “Official” Visit to Bradley Manning

By my count, the OLC memo retroactively authorizing the bombing of Libya mentions the importance of UN or UN Security Council credibility nine times, including these two extended discussions.

In prior opinions, this Office has identified a variety of national interests that, alone or in combination, may justify use of military force by the President. In 2004, for example, we found adequate legal authority for the deployment of U.S. forces to Haiti based on national interests in protecting the lives and property of Americans in the country, preserving “regional stability,” and maintaining the credibility of United Nations Security Council mandates. Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, from Jack L. Goldsmith III, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Deployment of United States Armed Forces to Haiti at 3-4 (Mar. 17, 2004) (“2004 Haiti Opinion”), available at opinions.htm. In 1995, we similarly concluded that the President’s authority to deploy approximately 20,000 ground troops to Bosnia, for purposes of enforcing a peace agreement ending the civil war there, rested on national interests in completing a “pattern of inter-allied cooperation and assistance” established by prior U.S. participation in NATO air and naval support for peacekeeping efforts, “preserving peace in the region and forestalling the threat of a wider conflict,” and maintaining the credibility of the UNSC. Proposed Bosnia Deployment, 19 Op. O.L.C. at 332-33. And in 1992, we explained the President’s authority to deploy troops in Somalia in terms of national interests in providing security for American civilians and military personnel involved in UNSC-supported humanitarian relief efforts and (once again) enforcing UNSC mandates. Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 10-12.2


The second important national interest implicated here, which reinforces the first, is the longstanding U.S. commitment to maintaining the credibility of the United Nations Security Council and the effectiveness of its actions to promote international peace and security. Since at least the Korean War, the United States government has recognized that “‘[t]he continued existence of the United Nations as an effective international organization is a paramount United States interest.’” Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 11 (quoting Authority of the President to Repel the Attack in Korea, 23 Dep’t St. Bull. 173, 177 (1950)). Accordingly, although of course the President is not required to direct the use of military force simply because the UNSC has authorized it, this Office has recognized that “‘maintaining the credibility of United Nations Security Council decisions, protecting the security of United Nations and related relief efforts, and ensuring the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping operations can be considered a vital national interest’” on which the President may rely in determining that U.S. interests justify the use of military force. Proposed Bosnia Deployment, 19 Op. O.L.C. at 333 (quoting Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 11). Here, the UNSC’s credibility and effectiveness as an instrument of global peace and stability were at stake in Libya once the UNSC took action to impose a no-fly zone and ensure the safety of civilians—particularly after Qadhafi’s forces ignored the UNSC’s call for a cease fire and for the cessation of attacks on civilians. As President Obama noted, without military action to stop Qadhafi’s repression, “[t]he writ of the United Nations Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling that institution’s future credibility to uphold global peace and security.” Obama March 28, 2011 Address; see also Obama March 21, 2011 Report to Congress (“Qadhafi’s defiance of the Arab League, as well as the broader international community . . . represents a lawless challenge to the authority of the Security Council and its efforts to preserve stability in the region.”). We think the President could legitimately find that military action by the United States to assist the international coalition in giving effect to UNSC Resolution 1973 was needed to secure “a substantial national foreign policy objective.” Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 12. [my emphasis]

Never mind that the Administration felt no need to bomb Cote d’Ivoire to maintain the credibility of the resolutions regarding that country, the Obama Administration just bombed another country in the name of “credibility” of the UN. While the Administration’s stated concerns about credibility focus on the UNSC, it extends (according to this memo) to the UN’s effectiveness generally, the UN’s security, and its relief efforts.

That’s interesting, because the UNHCR explains that in order for its Special Rapporteur on Torture to retain credibility, he must have unmonitored access to detainees. (See the Guardian for more on this.)

“Since December 2010, I have been engaging the US Government on visiting Mr. Manning, at the invitation of his Counsel, to determine his current condition,” the human rights expert said. “Unfortunately, the US Government has not been receptive to a confidential meeting with Mr. Manning.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as part of the methods of work for his mandate, requires unimpeded access to all places of detention, where he can hold private, confidential and unsupervised interviews with detainees. The requirement of a private, confidential and unsupervised interview is a standard practice of the Rapporteur’s mandate and ensures the credibility of any interviews that an independent expert holds with detainees or persons who allege that they have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

“I have since last year on several occasions raised serious concern about the conditions of detention of Mr. Manning, who since his arrest in May 2010, has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia. I have also urged the authorities to ensure his physical and mental integrity,” said Mr. Méndez.


“Even though I have not received an official answer from the Brig Commander, Mr. Manning’s counsel has learned that the request for an official visit has been denied,” Mr. Méndez said. “Presumably, the alternative is a ‘private visit’, the difference between the two is that the latter takes place in the presence of a guard, while an official visit may be unmonitored.”

On Friday, April 8, the Special Rapporteur held a conversation with high authorities in the Departments of Defense and State. Those officials confirmed that Manning could ask to see the Special Rapporteur if he so wished and in that case the US Government would have no objection to a ‘private visit,’ meaning a visit that is monitored by prison officials.

“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US Government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning. I understand that Pfc Manning does not wish to waive his right to an unmonitored conversation with me,” the human rights expert said. “My request for a private, confidential and unsupervised interview with Manning is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention center visited. In fact, such forms of interview have been used by the Special Rapporteur in, at least, 18 countries over the last 6 years.” [my emphasis]

But the Obama Administration has given Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez the same kind of run-around they gave Dennis Kucinich, and then ultimately refused to comply with the standard practice.

Apparently, our “national interest” in the credibility of the UN extends only so far as it allows us to bomb other countries, but not so far as it might expose our own treatment of detainees to independent evaluation.

Update: Title changed to get the type of visit correct.

  1. pdaly says:

    The definitions of “private” and “official” are opposite of what I thought. Reminds me of the fact that Public School is the term for private school in Europe:

    “Even though I have not received an official answer from the Brig Commander, Mr. Manning’s counsel has learned that the request for an official visit has been denied,” Mr. Méndez said. “Presumably, the alternative is a ‘private visit’, the difference between the two is that the latter takes place in the presence of a guard, while an official visit may be unmonitored.”

    So “Private visits” are monitored by the government. How totally consistent with the current political winds. Our government can monitor private phone calls, private mail, private homes, Private Manning.

    Speaking of privacy…
    I heard on the radio today that photographs of heat loss obtained with new(?) gadgets that energy companies purchased to help homeowners identify places in need of insulation had to be scrapped. The images apparently were “too detailed” and embarrassingly so.

      • pdaly says:

        I wasn’t correcting you. I thought you put “private” in quotes so that we would understand that ‘official’ visit is “private, confidential, and unsupervised”

        BTW, here’s a link to the thermal camera story hitting the Boston airwaves today. I noticed that the term “Boston officials” was used over and over as the ones who initiated the testing, but no names.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          More than one court has thrown out police use of such infrared camera photos as unwarranted searches. Those were in the context of “searches” of homes and apartments seeking evidence of homegrown marijuana. Such photos would reveal the use of heat lamps used in raising such plants indoors. The use of such cameras by the police without first establishing probable cause and obtaining a warrant was rejected.

          The Boston article was about using them extensively on city streets as well as in houses, nominally to detect excessive heat loss. Obviously, a large-scale infrared photo campaign would generate a lot more info than about just home heat loss. Kudos once again to the ACLU for taking action.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Yes, those are DoD categories. A “private” visit isn’t private. A guard would be present and all conversations would be monitored and recorded. The DoD would permit that.

          What it refuses to grant is an “official” visit, which would be confidential, with no guard, monitoring or recording permitted. The US, once again, shows it prefers the actions of rogue regimes to those that abide by the rule of law.

    • bmaz says:

      What, the Real Housewives of Wherever were hot or what??? Not sure what you are implying, but you have my curiosity appropriately piqued.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    From the cited Guardian article, emphasis mine:

    A senior United Nations representative on torture, Juan Mendez, issued a rare reprimand to the US government on Monday for failing to allow him to meet in private Bradley Manning…. It is the kind of censure that the UN normally reserves for authoritarian regimes around the world.

    Further from the same article:

    Mendez made it clear he expected more from the US. “The United States of America has a key role in setting examples on issues concerning my mandate as special rapporteur on torture, which makes it a vital partner for engagement.”

  3. orionATL says:

    the whitehouse-dod intransigence with repect to manning is a covert acknowledgwment that their conduct would be viewed as seriously inappropriate by an aware public.

    thus, any concessions wh/dod make to allow the manning story more wide spread can only cause them grief.

    this situation is yet another small instance of how tightly the american military have come to control knowledge that, if allowed to become public, would cause unwelcome questioning and a loss of public trust.

    by doing so, the wh/dod are sacrificing the future for the present. at some point the collectivity of small, festering hurts will amalgamate and generste a much greater loss of trust.

    at this point what is required is “external” (without the “co-operation” of the dod) sources of pressure leading to public knowledge and criticism of the wh/dod.

    to date, manning’s supporters have been unwilling to take this really aggressive step, perhaps for fear of furthering his isolation, perhaps for fear of retaliation.

  4. Jeff Kaye says:

    Great catch on the hypocrisy front, EW.

    Mendez is wrong though to expect the U.S. to set an example. The U.S. record on torture is so horrendous, and goes back so long now, that part of the battle to change things is to get us all to recognize that the U.S. has been suborning torture, training torturers, experimenting in torture, and outright torturing for many decades now.

    Still, my kudos to Mendez to speaking out. Too bad the Obama administration appears insensible to such pressures.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    OT, Mitt Romney officially throws his hat into the presidential ring. Demonstrating his lack of self-awareness, he decried Obama’s inability to understand the needs of the common man and woman, and his inability to help find jobs for 20 million of them.

    The hundred millionaire Romney, son of a millionaire governor, hasn’t much close association with the common man. As a lead partner in investment bank, Bain & Co., his mergers and acquisition deals led to the loss of many tens of thousands of jobs.

    Separate OT, FTP servers for the state of Texas mistakenly publicly disclosed the names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and driver’s license numbers for 3.2 million consumers.

  6. rosalind says:

    ot: one step closer to Dr. Evil’s desire for sharks w/frickin’ laser beams: Navy tests laser gun by zapping motorboat off California coast

    For the first time in its history, the U.S. Navy fired a laser ray gun mounted on a warship, zapping — and setting fire to — an empty motorboat as it bobbed in the Pacific Ocean…

    The laser’s power can be also “scaled down,” offering the Navy a non-lethal alternative to ward off threats such as pirates, terrorists and smugglers, Carr said.

    can hardly wait for the Homeland Security version to roll out…

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Popular Egyptian blogger sentenced to three years for “insulting” the Egyptian army by suggesting it was not wholly in sync with the recent people’s revolution. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was tried and convicted in a proceeding controlled by the Egyptian military. (h/t NPR)

    Military commissions can have the most intended consequences.

  8. donbacon says:

    Maintain UN credibility by bombing Libya?

    Where does it say in the UN Charter that the United Nations has the authority to do this?
    It doesn’t.
    The UN was set up to control and mediate international relations, not intra-national conflicts (civil wars).
    The “Right to Protect” (RtoP) is sometimes quoted, but that provision affirmed by the UNSC specifically specifies peaceful remedies, not war as in the recent resolution.
    And a no-fly zone is an act of war by the UN against a state which hasn’t threatened or attacked any other state (as the U.S. has done).
    It is interference by the world community in the affairs of one state, which is wrong and sets a bad, illegal precedent.

    And the UNSC vote was essentially only the US, UK and France. Talk about a lack of a mandate —

    UN Resolution 1973 – Votes
    Mar 17, 2011
    10 For – France, UK, Lebanon, US, South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria, Gabon

    0 Against
    5 Abstentions – China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany

    World population: 6,910m
    Voting for the resolution:
    United States, Britain, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa
    Total population: 711m (10.2% of world)
    Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, India
    Total population: 2,949m (42.6% of world)

    • shootthatarrow says:

      The United States has used the UN as propaganda catapult when it suits WashingtonDC many times since the early post WW2 years of UN creation. The abysmal American/Israeli constructed shell games they impose and inflict on the UN to protect their bastardized political/military hegemony of Palestine West Bank,East Jerusalem and Gaza best illustrates the mockery of UN that USA practices to suit it’s perverse pro Israel position(s). Now with Palestine seeking to gain UN grant of statehood the USA comes out against that — yet if the UN condemns or creates negative reflecting votes against China or Iran the USA is all for that.

      There is seldom very much American political integrity at the UN about/over human rights or the status of poor/not powerful humanbeings and nations. It is either about scoring propaganda hits or putting a UN approved stamp on American imperialism/hegemonism or constructing Potemkin styled UN political alliances to dress up illegal American militarism.

      While this in or of itself may well within the bounds of self-promotion and deflection of undesired attention on part of WashingtonDC/USA it also condemns the UN to less/reduced international prestige and hollowed out effectiveness.

      The USA could function without the UN being the USA is (has been?) since end of WW2 fully able to bully and push it’s hegemony on large number of nations as it chooses. Few nations have escaped American regimes of dollar based global banking and trade practices which often have led to American militarism either following the dollar or the dollar following American militarism.

      China,Cuba,Iran and Venezuela are four nations that have thwarted the hegemony of USA since 1946. For doing that these four nations have had to endure American hypocrisy regarding human rights,political freedom(s) and thinly veiled threat(s) of American militarism via Pentagon/CIA.

      It is not unreasonable to surmise that if the American political system of two party primary/alpha rule were wildly ever to present a political movement to scale back the Pentagon by one third or half or shut down the CIA any leader(s) capable of that ever unlikely American turn of politics would soon feel much heat from American M-I-C interests and entrenched American militarist thwart pointed at any such threat(s) to American supercharged and funded global militarism/security theatre regime(s).

      What is happening to Bradley Manning is being done by Americans in WashingtonDC who clearly have drifted very far from the lipservice WashingtonDC likes to taunt China and Iran with. Which reveals how hollow American human rights lipservice is. That POTUS Obama stands for this being so cannot be overlooked. This is taking place on his say so.

      Barack Obama and then also Hillary Clinton should be arrested for and put to trial for the war crimes and abuse of civilians via drone killer attacks and American failure of R2P in Afghanistan,Pakistan and Iraq.

      For failure by Obama/Clinton to implement legal justice and political correction(s) to G.W.Bush,Richard B.Cheney,Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice.Just for starters. With the Pentagon/CIA in followup.

      That Bradley Manning has not seen a visit from POTUS Obama or SoS Clinton all these past months speaks directly of the Dantian Hell Obama and Clinton deserve. Both Obama and Clinton like to preach human rights and “correct politics” to China and Iran given any small chance to do so. They both deserve the mercy they have shown or will not allow the UN to conduct in favor of Bradley Manning. Which is none.

  9. rosalind says:

    bombing-related: ladies and gents, we have our first friendly fire deaths by drone, “2 U.S. troops killed by ‘friendly fire’ in Afghanistan”:

    In what appeared to be the first case of U.S. troops being hit by “friendly fire” from a drone aircraft, two American servicemen were killed by a Hellfire missile after apparently being mistaken for insurgents moving to attack another group of Marines in southern Afghanistan.

    A Predator drone fired the missile that killed a Marine and a Navy medic in Helmand province last week, according to two Pentagon officials.

    via LA Times

    • tjallen says:

      But who? Ms Clinton won’t oppose Obama, Retiring Senators Dodd or Bayh? Senators Boxer, Schumer, Feingold? Those three are running for re-election to their Senate seats. (I’d vote for Russ). There is no one of enough stature, it seems at this point.

    • Knut says:

      Getting him out is hopeless. Better to look forward to 2016 and start building the resistance now. It’s going to take that much time. There’s too much rot in the system to work through it in one election cycle.

  10. Paoloon says:

    If the US were truly concerned about UN “credibility” then why the hell has it allowed (by furnishing arms and vetoing numerous resolutions) Israel to flaunt tens of UN resolutions concerning its behavior in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon?

    Just wonderin’

  11. harpie says:

    I know I’m late on this, and it’s most likely been brought up around here before, but…

    Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs wrote about “private” and “official” the other day, with a link to the actual brig rules:

    Brig Fails to Follow Its Own Rules; David E. Coombs; 4/7/11

    […] The Government’s position is that the above individuals are not entitled to an official visit because none of these individuals are conducting “official government business.” Because the Government refuses to allow these visits to take place as an official visit, it indicates that it will generously interpret the provisions with respect to “authorized visits.” In particular, it will permit an authorized visit with PFC Manning despite the fact that none of these individuals had “established a proper relationship with the prisoner prior to confinement” as required under the Brig rule. Such an authorized visit, of course, will be subject to Brig monitoring and can be used as evidence against PFC Manning in a court-martial proceeding.

  12. cregan says:

    While I disagree with some elements of your complaints regarding Manning, I feel it is vitally important for someone like you to keep you eye on the situation.

    However, I am sure there are hundreds of prisoners kept in 23 hour a day detention around the US who would also love the attention and watchful eye. Just in California there are likely more than 100.

    The visit should have been allowed even if it led to being used for publicity purposes by a defense attorney.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Those prisoners have already been tried in a public court of law, convicted by a jury of their peers, and have exhausted their appeals.

      Regardless, prolonged isolation, forced nudity, forced lack of exercise, and similar techniques have nothing to do with maintaining a prisoner’s mental health or prison security. They are intended to manipulate, degrade and break their personality. Those are the tools of oppression, not of a criminal justice system.

      • cregan says:

        Uh, I believe OJ was given 23 hours in a cell while awaiting trial. While, he might have been guilty as hell, he had not been convicted either.