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:

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.”

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.

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Comments on “Surprise: President Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence”

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Anonymous Coward says:

While their reasoning may be flawed, the white house is correct Manning and Snowden are different; part of civil disobedience and protest is standing up and taking responsibility for your actions. Protesting an unjust law is all well and good, but doing it and then running away doesn’t make you a hero. Yes, Snowden likely would have gotten the book thrown at him, and his life would be substantially worse if he’d stuck around, but that willingness to suffer is part of what makes us respect those who stand up against unjust laws.

I’m not saying I support Snowden going to prison, nor am I saying that what he did wasn’t valuable. It was; but when he chose to flee the country rather than stand up and make his case here, he separated himself from Manning, and ceded at least part of the moral high ground civil disobedience stands on. That he ended up in Russia because his passport was yanked is of little concern; he was intending to flee somewhere that wouldn’t send him back to the US, a list that is dominated by US adversaries.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Plus with Snowden free it makes it more difficult for the government to set a completely false narrative during the most relevant moments of the revelations without getting a response from Snowden. If the government says something completely wrong about what happened Snowden was free to respond on the spot.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And it’s not like this didn’t happen basically month for month for month on end.

Snowden being able to put out (and prove) his version time and again made a large difference regarding the public’s ability to see just how far off the deep end of their own lying propaganda the agencies had gone.

Yes, it did invite the continuous stream of “Snowden should come back and defend his actions in court to the tune of an Espionage Act accusation which explicitly prohibits him from defending his actions in court, the court, and I want to see the bastard hanging from a tree” kind of comment from all sorts of U.S. officials. And some citizens fall for that.

But overall, I think that in the course of the citizens getting a chance to see where they are at with the unaccountability of their ruling class, I very much think that Snowden picked the better course. Not for himself, but for the U.S. It’s still up to people to take action, and it very much looks like they won’t. But they have a lot more reason to be ashamed for their rulers, and some choose to hate Snowden for it.

383bigblock (profile) says:

Re: WRONG...

There is no honor in taking one for the team especially when the system is rigged against whistle blowers. What Snowden released was pure value and we’re seeing changes or more importantly increased awareness across the US for how far out of bounds our Government is willing to stray. The value is not less because he didn’t subject himself to wrath of those who were caught with their hands in the cookie jar. He’s a survivor and thanks to him we have a better understanding of the wickedness of those we entrust to govern us. He is a hero…. by all counts. He was smart enough to reveal what was necessary and preserve his ability to stay relevant and not get swept under the rug.

It just like the liberals who are all upset at Russia blaming them for Hilary’s defeat. It’s the not Russians fault that they behave the way they did and wrote the emails that they did, they just got caught. No different with Snowden, how many asshats stood up and predicted armageddon because the leak. No such disaster took place, they bent over backwards trying to denounce and deny the truth. The true turn-coats or the extreme unpatriotic are those asshats in our government that needlessly and recklessly spy on Americans in order to drink up the power.

Bravo Snowden…..for being smart about it.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: WRONG...

It’s the not Russians fault that they behave the way they did and wrote the emails that they did, they just got caught.

Well, it is Russia’s fault that they only chose to leak information that was damaging to the Clinton campaign. You don’t think they had dirt on Trump too?

I’ve said this before, but apparently it bears repeating: the content of those e-mails was in the public interest. The provenance of those e-mails is in the public interest too. It’s possible to be outraged by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and also to be outraged that a foreign government strategically interfered with our election. It’s okay to think two different things are bad.

Richard M (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: WRONG...

While I do not condone in any way Russia getting involved in the US election the US has no high ground here at all.

We have a long history of not only interfering in elections but of actively overthrowing (or at least helping others overthrow) Govts that we do not like.

We interfere with other countries more than anyone and then when somebody else does it we act all holier than thou.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re: WRONG...

Erm, why don’t Liberals mention how the FBI blatantly sided with Trump over Clinton by making announcements about her emails, etc.?

Doesn’t really fit the narrative of “The Russkies done stole our election,” does it? Clinton was too flawed to win and in a race between Bad and Worse, the people argued about who was worse and plumped for Trump.

The people wanted change because they’re angry because identity politics and ideological correctness on both sides of the aisle are shutting them out. Trumpy McTrumpface was the people crying out to be heard. Flippin’ well pay attention: they didn’t want more of the same, and that is what Hillary offered them.

Trump offered change, but be careful what you wish for.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 WRONG...

Erm, why don’t Liberals mention how the FBI blatantly sided with Trump over Clinton by making announcements about her emails, etc.?

Er, they do, all the time?

A Google News search for Comey’s name currently turns up 1.4 million results. Pick one of them and see how far you get before the article mentions a liberal criticizing Comey for the announcement the week before the election.

Okay, first match, : sixth sentence.

Second match, : first sentence.

Third match, : headline.

Fourth match, : headline.

And so on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nobody is obligated to be a hero.

I do beg your pardon, but I differ with you on that. "When good men see evil and do nothing, evil triumphs."

I argue there every person has a duty to fight evil, injustice, poverty, and hate, and to do nothing about is, at best, moral cowardice.

I don’t insist that people die for the fight, just do something constructive to combat it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

this is why every nation gets the government it deserves…

Snowden is a patriot, he knew about the shit-storm he was conjuring up and still stood tall and hard and did his part. If only half the cowards in this forum were just half the man Snowden is, I would not have to face an uphill battle with all of “it’s not our fault for doing nothing to help prevent our government from going south, you are victim blaming, that quote applies to you too wah wah wah… There just is not enough cheese in the world for their whines!

Every citizen of every nation has some small part to play in what their country does. It is just a fact of life. Every time a cop gets away with murder, a politician that gets away with accepting bribes, every law and court that taxes the innocent of their life with false or unjust imprisonment or punishments… we all share a small part of that blame.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You mean like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers?

Ellsberg’s trial was dismissed in 1973 after evidence of government misconduct against him, including illegal wiretapping, was introduced in court. Today the government actions that got the case thrown out of court are legal.

For the two years Ellsberg was under indictment he was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. Today Snowden would not be allowed out on bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado, in total isolation conditions.

Speak the truth, then run.
– Polish proverb

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"…part of civil disobedience and protest is standing up and taking responsibility for your actions."

Can you show us where exactly in the rule book is says that? And besides, he has taken responsibility for it, he said he did it.

"Protesting an unjust law is all well and good, but doing it and then running away doesn’t make you a hero."

Sacrificing your life in the country of your birth, not being able to see family and friends, and not being able to work in your field of expertise, all for the benefit of the everyone else, seems pretty heroic to me. Why do you have to be throw in jail be be called a hero?

"Yes, Snowden likely would have gotten the book thrown at him, and his life would be substantially worse if he’d stuck around, but that willingness to suffer is part of what makes us respect those who stand up against unjust laws."

That’s your opinion only, many others don’t require such an extreme level of personal sacrifice to award someone respect.

"…when he chose to flee the country rather than stand up and make his case here, he separated himself from Manning, and ceded at least part of the moral high ground civil disobedience stands on."

Well he was clearly smarter than Manning, because he knew exactly what would happen if he stuck around. Choosing to impale yourself on a manifestly unjust legal system doesn’t give you any more moral high ground.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

"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."

That’d be one of the four countries that offered Snowden permanent asylum: Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela. The US trapped Snowden in Russia while enroute. They even intercepted and searched the president of Bolivia’s plane to search it for Snowden.

Funny though, I hadn’t heard that Bolivia was an adversary or undermined American democracy.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You can’t phase out the war on drugs without replacement. You’d upset law enforcement operations.

But hey, I think the time is ripe for it.

“Sir, I think we heard strange sounds reminiscent of Beatles emanating from your car. And I see our copy cat alerting. There is sufficient grounds for suspecting you listening to pirated music, so we’ll confiscate all devices possibly involved in illegal music reproduction. Hand over all your smartphones. Your car has a car stereo? I got bad news for you. Say good bye to it. Not the stereo, silly. The car.”

zerosaves (profile) says:

My biggest issue with Manning is the complete stupidity of some of what was released. The stuff revealed put real peoples lives in danger. Names of people who worked for the military in war zones undercover as translators or for intel community gathering local info. Those people became targets once this got out. So I was never 100% against any and all punishment for this. 35 years may be a little long but I always thought it was a dumb move to just give all that over to people to publish online without knowing what was in it. I could care less about making the government look bad with the cables, but don’t put peoples lives at risk who are helping us.

Snowden, on the other hand, revealed what the government was doing to us, the citizens. More of an embarrassment than life threatening. A true whistle blower.

Snowden deserves the “pardon” (I know I know, he just communicated the sentence) more than Manning.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Keep in mind that more than 3 million people had access to the diplomatic cables, including folks in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

If that information could put real peoples’ lives in danger, the stupidity wasn’t on Manning’s part. I have to wonder if there was an intelligence agency on the planet that didn’t already have a copy.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

well of course not.

Mostly because there is no US Extradition. In fact, it’s a funny thing, but 4 days prior to his entry into the Ecuadorian embassy, he had all but been assured that he could not, in any circumstances, be extradited to the US.

The only reason to have gone into that embassy at that time, would have been to avoid extradition to Sweden. Sweden has a prohibition on extradition for political reasons (they’d previously refused to extradite Edward howard who was being charged with Espionage after having defected to the Soviet Union). This is why on August 18 2010 (two days before the allegations were made) he had applied for residency there.
Second, under the Doctrine of Speciality the only way to have extradited him to the US, would be for Sweden to agree (which as I’ve just noted, they wouldn’t) and then for the UK to also agree in accordance with the far stricter UK-Sweden treaty than the US-UK treaty.
Third, the UK was a strange place for someone to go to (especially for 20 months) if they’re seeking to avoid US extradition because it has one of the easiest extradition treaties (probably cause is all that’s needed).

The only way any of his actions through the 3 year period from September 1 2010 to September 1 2012 makes sense is if he knew full well that there is not, and never was going to be a US extradition. Of course, it kinda helps that the US DOJ has said as much a number of times. However, it’s a great claim to play to the fans, and stoke the conspiracy theorists, and hide the fact that, yes, he is just trying to avoid going to trial on the sexual assault allegations, and nothing more.

discordian_eris says:

Testicular Fortitude

I see Obama has some after all. Now if he can just put on his big girl panties and pardon Snowden. Hell, there’s a list a mile long of people he should be pardoning. If he truly wanted to do the right thing, he could damn near completely empty federal prisons of all the people held on BS drug charges. I know pipe dreaming there, but if he wants to leave a legacy, that would be a good one to have.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Testicular Fortitude

He’s made real progress in starting to turn the drug war around. Not as much as I’d like, but more than any other President has in the last half-century.

I share your horror (and, presumably, most Techdirt readers’) at his expansion of the surveillance state. But people are complicated, history moreso, and a President’s legacy is usually not limited to just one thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Testicular Fortitude

He’s made real progress in starting to turn the drug war around. Not as much as I’d like, but more than any other President has in the last half-century.

Oh, is that why he appointed Michele Leonhart and Chuck Rosenberg? Because he wanted to end or slow down the drug war?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Testicular Fortitude

More importantly … what he didn’t do:

let the world economic crisis crush this country
let millions die from lack of medical attention
start another war
allow corporate control of national parks for mining/drilling
privatize education
put social security in the hands of privateers
just add all the things Trump/GOP want

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Testicular Fortitude

Serious question, what did he do? I can’t think of anything off-hand.

He commuted the sentences of more criminals than any President in history, hundreds of whom were nonviolent drug offenders ( ).

He also signed into law a bill to end the disparate sentencing for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine.

Most of the progress I’ve seen has been by states legalizing medical or recreational marijuana.

Yes, but it’s still banned under federal law, and it’s up to the Executive Branch to decide whether to continue to prosecute people in states where it’s legal. Bush’s DoJ prosecuted people who grew medical marijuana; Obama’s ended the practice.

Again, "Not as much as I’d like, but more than any other President has in the last half-century."

Anonymous Coward says:

"We tortured some folks"

Don’t forget what Manning went through. It wasn’t just solitary confinement. Commutation isn’t a pardon. Meaning that Manning will still suffer with the difficulties that having a federal criminal conviction presents.

Pretty dickless to convict, imprison and torture someone for telling the truth. Good for Obama for doing one good thing during his tenure. He could have done better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "We tortured some folks"

I didn’t think Manning had a federal criminal conviction? Wasn’t he tried before a military court? This would give her a martial criminal conviction, which will result in either more or less difficulties, depending on how people weight such a conviction.

So: no more opportunity to work for the government, period. Lots of opportunity for self-employment, motivational talking circuits, working for people who are anti-war, etc.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: "We tortured some folks"

And on top of all that, it’s not as if prospective employers aren’t going to know who she is. A lot of hiring managers could look at her as a security risk, or emotionally unstable, or just plain not like her because of what she’s done.

She’s got a tough road ahead of her. But at least it’s not going to be as tough as prison.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "We tortured some folks"

Chelsea Manning was a transsexual being treated rough by her former gender-mates. She had already tried to commit suicide twice and has spend far too long in solitary confinement.

I bet, the cost of having her in prison has been far too high and her situation was extremely awkward since she was in a male prison… If anyting, this is a way to avoid having Mannings expected future suicide wreck havoc on the way US treats prisoners (which is development country level by most statistics)!

Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting choice of words/actions.

Pardoning or freeing Manning would lead to an outcry: “Why did Obama let that terrorist* go free?! Waaaah!” But commuting the sentence the way Obama did effectively frees Manning (just a few months to go!) while letting the public believe that the evil terrorist* has been punished for her crimes.

* Replace terrorist with your choice of buzzword as desired.

streetlight (profile) says:

Manning compared to Petraeus

Compare the situation Manning suffered compared to that of Petraeus. Petraeus, a retired four star general and CIA director, revealed to his mistress in an extra marital affair something like 30,000 classified documents. Petraeus was convicted of misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials. It’s not clear to me where these documents went or what judicially happened to the mistress. He was given a two-year probationary period and a fine of $100,000 ( It’s not clear when the extramarital affair started, but if it was when he was still in the army then, the military has severe penalties for such behavior. But then, he was a four star general.

wondering says:

Obama letting the terrorists out of goal.

Obama should be hung. I feel this traitor is planning a Terrorist attack on America. We have never had so much violence in the world since he took over and the media is petrified of this racist. Why don’t they tell the truth about Michelle Obama is she transender. Obama looks Gay and has he a secret son.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: A more dangerous enemy

Selective enforcement and intimidation.

A and B are both on The List.

A is a ‘good citizen’ and keeps his/her head down, doesn’t make waves, doesn’t question those in charge, and as such isn’t given much attention by the higher ups.

B is not a ‘good citizen’. They speak their mind, question statements made by their betters, and have the audacity so suggest that the government might not in fact have their best interests in mind. As a result should B make too much of a hassle the can look forward to ‘investigations’, a ‘few questions’, maybe some ‘administrative issues’ should they try to fly anywhere or apply for a job that requires a background/security check.

If everyone is guilty of something(and with the insane and near countless laws we have that’s pretty much a given) then that gives those with the ability to hand out punishments enormous power, both direct and indirect at their discretion and/or whim.

Groaker (profile) says:

It is not just office workers, but highly trained individuals like research attorneys, infection control doctors, doctors specializing in diagnosis, quite likely your internist, and of course Jeopardy players.

Any job which requires winnowing through massive amounts of data to come to a couple of possibilities is up for replacement.

Humans will go back to the creative crafts, arts, minstrels and similar such work

Anonymous Coward says:

it didn’t occure to me, but then i saw on cbc news, julian assange said he would turn himself over to the US if mannings sentance was commuted. so i see this as less ‘the right thing to do” and more “releasing an unimportant political prisoner to get at the enemies of hillary clinton”. this may appear different from outside the country than from inside i think.

My_Name_Here says:

How many days will this be hidden?

Classic Techdirt, playing on “Gotcha!” politics to try and rile the pirate-friendly crowd.

It’s posts like these that make me reconsider my perspective on the Ayyadurai lawsuit. Techdirt has always tended to censor and hide voices of wisdom contrary to the pirate party line. I’m really starting to think it’s karma.

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