Obama commutes sentence for Manning

Obama commutes sentence for Manning

Chelsea Manning, seen in this photograph of herself in a wig and makeup in 2010, has received a commuted sentence from President Obama, granting  the transgender U.S. Army private an early release from a conviction on espionage and theft. (Photo courtesy U. S. Army)

By Jamie Rogers

In one of his last actions as president, Barack Obama has pardoned 64 individuals and granted commutation of sentence to 209 individuals, including all but four months of the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst convicted of a 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world. 

The 29-year-old transgender U.S. Army private, born Bradley Manning, will be freed May 17, 2017, instead of her scheduled 2045 release.

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years for her role in leaking diplomatic cables to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, creating one of the largest breaches of classified material in U.S. history. Manning was charged with 22 counts relating to the unauthorized possession and distribution of more than 700,000 secret diplomatic and military documents and video. Included in those files was video footage of an Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. Manning also passed on sensitive messages between U.S. diplomats, intelligence assessments of Guantanamo detainees being held without trial and military records from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The disclosures prompted the Obama administration to crack down on government leaks.

U.S. Army photograph from 2012, of Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)


According to The New York Times, Chelsea Manning was still known as Bradley Manning when she deployed with her unit to Iraq in late 2009. There, she worked as a low-level intelligence analyst helping her unit assess insurgent activity in the area it was patrolling, a role that gave her access to a classified computer network. At her court-martial, Manning confessed in detail to her actions and apologized, saying she had not intended to put anyone at risk and noting that she had been “dealing with a lot of issues” at the time she made her decision.

Two lawyers who have been representing Manning in appealing her conviction and sentence — Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward — praised the decision.

“Ms. Manning is the longest-serving whistleblower in the history of the United States,” they said. “Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation.”

However, the move was criticized by several Republicans, including Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who called her leaks “espionage” and said they had put American troops and the country at risk.

While incarcerated at the male military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Manning twice attempted suicide last year. She also went on a hunger strike last year, which she ended after the military agreed to provide her with gender transition treatment. The commutation relieves the Department of Defense of the difficult responsibility of Manning’s incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, which the military has no experience providing.

Until recently, the military discharged transgender soldiers. In June, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter changed that policy and said the military would instead provide treatment for those soldiers, eventually including such surgery if doctors said it was necessary.

At the same time that President Obama commuted the sentence of Manning, a low-ranking enlisted soldier at the time of her leaks, he also pardoned James E. Cartwright, a retired Marine general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to FBI agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Additionally, Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that carried out a string of bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s; the other members of that group had long since been freed. Obama also granted 63 other pardons and 207 other commutations, mostly for drug offenders.

Notably absent from Obama’s actions are a pardon for Edward Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor who disclosed archives of top-secret surveillance files and is living as a fugitive in Russia.

What do you think about President Obama’s commuting of sentences for 209 people? Should his actions have gone further to commute sentences or pardon other offenders?

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