President Obama did himself proud yesterday with an announcement that he is commuting the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning for the unauthorized release of government documents (whistle-blowing) to the nearly seven years that she has already served behind bars. Manning, who was arrested in Iraq in 2010, pleaded guilty to ten charges related to copying government materials, but steadfastly denied the more serious charges of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. She was acquitted on the more serious charges.
Chelsea Manning's actual "crime" was embarrassing the military and the administration, or, as I noted in this space on December 6, 2016 in a blog post entitled "Free Chelsea Manning:"
"What Chelsea Manning was guilty of was embarrassing a bunch of over-stuffed generals who thought they were running a secure computer network - as well as the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton's State Department. While the generals slept secure in the knowledge that their computer networks were safe behind fourteen-character passwords that were changed every ninety days, young Private Manning kicked back at her desk listening to music while she downloaded reams of secret correspondence onto plug-in devices that could be bought at any Walmart."Chelsea Manning did not try to avoid arrest and she owned up to her crimes. She has already served more time behind bars than any other person accused of similar crimes. Obama's commutation of her sentence is an acknowledgement that justice has been served.
Obama's commutation calls for Manning to be released on May 17, 2017
Arrested as a male, Private Bradley Manning soon revealed that he regarded himself as a woman born into a man's body. The military eventually allowed her to begin hormone replacement therapy at the Ft. Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks where she is confined, and the base commander at Leavenworth has recently approved her request for gender reassignment surgery. The psychological strain of existing as a woman in a men's military prison twice led Manning to attempt suicide.
The commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence by President Obama promises to be one of the more controversial acts of his administration, and, right on cue, Republicans began springing for microphones to denounce compassionate gesture. Noted political hack and Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called the move "outrageous," and Senators John McCain and Tom Cotton, both veterans of armed conflict, snorted their disapproval.
Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks, the organization that published much of the government material that was released by Private Manning, has indicated that he plans to follow through on his promise to travel to the United States and make himself available for arrest by the government as a result of the President's decision to commute Manning's sentence. Assange has been living at Ecuador's embassy in London for the past several years.
Edward Snowden, a civilian contractor who also released much classified information to the media, is still living on the run in Russia, and Putin's government has recently announced that it has extended Snowden's permit to stay in that country for another three years. Snowden has never admitted any guilt nor served any time behind bars as a result of his actions. President Obama has given no indication that he any plans to pardon Snowden. However, an intercession by the Putin government with the next U.S. administration on behalf of Snowden remains a distinct possibility.
Now, President Obama, please consider showing gracious mercy to Leonard Peltier, a man who has spent forty years in prison - six of those in solitary confinement - as much for political symbolism as for any crimes he may have committed. It's time for this frail old gentleman to go home and be with family.
Thank you, President Obama, for doing the right thing for Chelsea Manning. She has admitted her crimes, served an adequate amount of time, and needs to be free to get on with her life. Thank you, sir, for making that possible.