Bringing the plight of the accused WikiLeaks leaker to President Obama’s doorstep, a group of activists interrupted a high-dollar campaign fundraiser he was holding in San Francisco on Thursday to protest the administration’s treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning.
Ten protesters greeted the commander-in-chief with a song decrying Pfc. Manning’s detention, but conceding they’d nevertheless vote for the Democrat again next year over a Republican challenger.
The hecklers at the Democratic National Committee event - where guests paid as much as $35,800 to help Mr. Obama build his re-election war chest - piped up just as the president was saying he needed the same kind of energy from supporters as he had in 2008.
“Now, where was I?” Mr. Obama said at the conclusion of the song that called for the young soldier’s release. “Now there’s an example of creativity that we saw during the campaign.”
The case of Pfc. Manning has become a cause celebre among antiwar activists who helped power Mr. Obama to victory but have since been rankled by his administration’s continuation of many Bush-era national security policies - the indefinite detention of detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan chief among them.
Many liberals have said the Army is being too harsh on the 23-year-old former intelligence analyst, whom the government suspects of leaking tens of thousands of confidential documents to WikiLeaks. Held in military prison since last summer, Pfc. Manning has been kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day - something the military has insisted is for his own protection.
This week, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from a Marine base in Northern Virginia.
Following the group’s song, Mr. Obama did not comment specifically on the issue, but referred to it generally as an example of how “change turned out to be tougher than a lot of us expected.”
“I think a lot of folks didn’t recognize that we might end up going through the worst recession since the Great Depression, and that we’d see 8 million jobs lost, devastating entire communities all across the country,” he told the crowd of about 200 gathered at the St. Regis.
White House spokesman Jay Carney later said the president took the interruption “in stride.”
“And he thought it was kind of funny,” Mr. Carney told reporters on board Air Force One. “It certainly perked up the morning.”
Mr. Obama, wrapping up a three-day trip to California and Nevada, later headed to Reno, Nev., for a campaign-style town-hall event at a renewable-energy company, at which he said a new Justice Department task force will monitor for price-gouging amid skyrocketing gasoline prices.
“We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain,” the president said.
Gas prices have topped $4 a gallon along the West Coast, hovering near $3.85 nationally, according to government statistics. Mr. Obama has thus far resisted calls for releasing oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve but has been under increasing pressure to help consumers.