Surprise: President Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
from the about-time dept
Well, here’s a surprise. President Obama has just commuted the bulk of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, meaning she will be freed this May, rather than having to spend another three decades in jail. Manning, of course, was sent to prison for sharing a large chunk of US diplomatic cables with Wikileaks. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison nearly four years ago (with credit for the 3.5 years she’d already been held, often in solitary confinement). Many people were already outraged at the sentence, especially given that there was no evidence of any actual harm from the leaks.
There were two big campaigns going on over the past few months — one to pardon Ed Snowden, and another to commute Manning’s sentence. President Obama had already made it fairly clear that he had no interest in pardoning Snowden based on the totally false claim that he could not pardon Snowden prior to Snowden being convicted. In the past few weeks, however, there were at least a few hints and rumors that Obama was seriously considering commuting Manning’s sentence, and that led to even more focus on the campaign. Ed Snowden himself also advocated for Manning, even ahead of his own case:
Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 11, 2017
And then, just a few days ago, Wikileaks tweeted that Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Obama “grants Manning clemency.”
If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case https://t.co/MZU30SlfGK
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 12, 2017
And yes, commuting the sentence (which shortens the sentence, but is not a full pardon…) is a form of clemency. So now there’s a separate question to ask: will Assange agree to be extradited to the US (or will he just come here voluntarily?). Perhaps after Trump takes over later this week, that won’t be such a huge concern, since Trump has magically morphed into a huge Wikileaks/Assange supporter.
Unfortunately, though, it does appear that the likelihood of a Snowden pardon is also almost nil. In discussing today’s commutation of Manning’s sentence, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest basically argued that what Snowden did was much worse than Manning, because he “fled”:
“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” he said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”
He also noted that while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were “damaging to national security,” the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were “far more serious and far more dangerous.” (None of the documents Ms. Manning disclosed were classified above the merely ?secret? level.)
While I agree that there was a difference in the types of documents revealed, one might also make the argument that Snowden’s leaks revealed much more serious problems and the impact of his leaks were much more important in revealing to the American public abuses by our own government. Separately, the whole “fled into the arms of adversary” thing is silly as well. As has been explained multiple times, Snowden ended up in Russia after the US pulled his passport while he was traveling. And, at the same time, a big part of the reason Snowden left the US was the unfortunate treatment of Manning by the military judicial process. Snowden properly surmised that he would not be treated fairly. And apparently that continues to this day.
Either way, it’s good that Manning’s sentence has been commuted. It’s been clear from many reports that Manning was unlikely to survive the full sentence given to her, and she’s been treated horribly in prison as well. It’s still too bad that President Obama is unwilling to also pardon Snowden.