Like most presidents before President Obama is issuing pardons and commuting sentences in his last days in office.
Obama has commuted more sentences than the last 12 presidents combined. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Out of the 1,385 since 2014 540 were serving life sentences for low-level drug offenses. As usual pardons and commutations can be controversial.
The most controversial of Obama’s commutations is the one for Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted of leaking a large amount of diplomatic and military documents to WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange promised in the past to allow himself to be extradited to the U.S. to face charges if Manning was freed from prison. We’ll have to wait and see if he’s a man of his word. The Obama administration said that was not a factor in their decision to free Manning. I believe that as I wouldn’t trust Assange either.
The president felt her sentencing, 35 years, was too harsh and that after seven years she had served enough time. The administration compared it her case to Eric Snowden’s, who fled the country. In contrast Manning took responsibility and expressed remorse for her crime. There is no evidence that Manning’s leaks threatened American lives. Manning’s 35-year prison sentence was the harshest ever imposed for a leak conviction.
Predictably Republicans are upset. Their first argument is that this will set a precedent that in future those who compromise national security will not face consequences. That’s a dumb argument. First off, Obama won’t be around to commute sentences. Second, who wants to face seven years in a military prison?
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture called her treatment “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” Manning is a transgender who went by Bradley at the time of conviction. She was kept in solitary confinement for the first year of her incarceration and she’s tried to kill herself twice. I don’t see how anyone can say she didn’t suffer consequences for her actions.
The hypocrisy is that those upset with Manning turn a blind eye to the Republicans use of emails leaked by WikiLeaks. They often argue that we should look at the contents of the leaks more than the fact they were leaked, or who hacked and leaked them. With that argument maybe they should look at the contents of Manning’s leaks which exposed the military for killing civilians, journalists, and the abuses of detainees by Iraqi military officers.
Manning’s conviction stands. She is guilty. It’s not a good crime. Neither is using material hacked by foreign spies so you can assume the highest office in the land. A president who is at the very least complicit with that foreign power and unable to recognize the transgression, or even criticize the foreign leader, bothers me much more than what Manning has done.
I don’t feel like my life is in any danger by what Manning revealed nor do I feel threatened by her freedom.
I can’t say the same about Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office.
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