“I have to abide by certain classified information,” Obama said on a video that quickly began to circulate among media outlets Friday. “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law. … We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate. … He broke the law.”
“The comment was not appropriate because it assumes that Manning is guilty,” Steven Aftergood, a classified information expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told POLITICO. “The president got carried away and misspoke. No one should mistake a charge for a conviction — especially the nation’s highest official.”
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and military law expert, predicted that before the end of the day, the White House will have issued a corrective statement.
“Commenting on Manning’s conditions of confinement is one thing — I would have strongly advised him to not comment about Manning’s guilt,” Fidell told POLITICO.
Aftergood and Fidell agreed that Obama remarks — while unfortunate — probably will not affect whether Manning will receive a fair trial. “It’s not that hard to ensure that unlawful command influence hasn’t in fact prejudiced the right to a fair trial,” Fidell explained. “If the case goes to a court marshal, the military court will have to make sure that none of the members of the military jury have been influenced by the president’s stated belief that Manning broke the law.”
And what about Obama’s assertion that “I have to abide by certain rules of classified information?” There seems to be an error in this assumption too, as the president has the power to define and authorize what information is considered “classified.”
“It’s a misstatement: It presumes that the classification rules are a matter of law, when in fact they are a matter of they are based in executive order,” Aftergood said. “There are rules and procedures governing the de-classification process, but those rules also are based in presidential authority. The president has supreme authority over what is classified.”
In other words, Obama can “declassify” anything he wants, Fidell said. “That one got away from him a little. In a way, it’s a hypothetical that could never happen.”
Perhaps the president, who himself is a legal scholar, was thrown off by the earlier incident. <>
“He seems to have had a bad day, because he said a number of things that really were not coherent,” Aftergood said. (Full story)