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Chelsea Manning Reportedly On Short List For Commutation

With  only nine days to go in his Presidency, President Obama is reportedly working out a final list of pardons and commutations of people convicted of crimes under Federal law, and among those names on a short list is Chelsea Manning:

President Obama has put Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified material, on his short list for a possible commutation, a Justice Department source told NBC News.

A decision could come as soon as Wednesday for Manning, who has tried to commit suicide twice this year and went on a hunger strike in a bid for gender reassignment surgery.

“I have more hope right now than I have the entire time since she was sentenced,” Manning’s aunt, Deborah Manning, told NBC News.

“I do think it’s the last hope for a while.”

Manning — then known as Bradley — was locked up in 2010 after swiping 700,000 military files and diplomatic cables and giving them to Wikileaks.

Prosecutors branded Manning a “traitor” seeking notoriety in the world of hackers and anarchists. Manning’s lawyers painted their client as a naive whistle-blower who caused little more than mortification.

Manning pleaded guilty and before the sentencing delivered an apology to the court — and the nation. A recording of that statement is being broadcast for the first time by NBC News.

“I’m sorry,” Manning said. “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States.”

“I understand that I must pay the price for my decisions and actions,” Manning added.

Those words of contrition did not sway the military judge, who gave Manning a sentence about 10 times longer than those of recent whistle-blowers.

“After this case, I had to tell Chelsea — ‘I’ve represented murderers. I’ve represented rapists. I’ve represented child molesters. And none of them received 35 years,'” defense lawyer David Coombs told NBC News.

Manning — who announced she was a transgender woman named Chelsea the day after the verdict — didn’t seem to process what the sentence meant for her, her aunt said.

“I don’t think it really sunk in,” Deborah Manning said. “Thirty-five years is just a long thing to try to imagine, especially when you’re just in your early 20s.”

Manning’s supporters believe the harshness of the sentence can be traced to another leaker; the scandal around former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was erupting around the same time.

“I really believe the judge felt she needed to send some sort of message,” the aunt said. “I think in a way she was a scapegoat for Edward Snowden.”

Snowden, who has asked Obama for clemency, tweeted his support of Manning shortly after NBC News’ report about the commutation decision aired on TODAY on Wednesday morning.

Four former and current Army intelligence officers told NBC News the documents leaked by Manning pale in significance to highly classified top secret material released by Snowden. The officers, who would not allow their names to be used, said the Manning sentence seems excessive.

The Manning leak included video of a deadly 2007 air strike in Baghdad in which the U.S. helicopter crew could be heard laughing about the casualties and State Department cables with blunt comments from American diplomats.

“I don’t think any harm was done,” Coombs said of the disclosures. “A lot of embarrassment, certainly.”

Alexa O’Brien, a freelance journalist, covered the trial and sat in the courtroom every day. She said she believes Manning did not mean to harm the U.S. and that the pre-sentence apology was genuine.

“Everything she said in that statement is completely morally and ethically consistent with what she said when she pled to 10 lesser or included offenses,” O’Brien said.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to the Manning case, but it did seem to me at the time that the sentence she received was somewhat excessive given the nature of the offenses and the fact that she did express remorse in the end. Even so, granting even a commutation in this case, which would release Manning from prison but not remove the conviction from her record, is likely to prove to be controversial if the President does go forward with it.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    I think the President should release her — it will piss off Republicans, it has no impact on national security, and it’s the humane thing to do.

    She appears to be a basket case at this point, and isn’t getting the help she needs in prison. But, mostly, it will piss off Republicans.

    (I would notionally support a pardon for Bergdahl as well, since no justice will be served by putting him in jail (how would that be worse than what happened with the Taliban?), but would prefer a guilty plea or a trial before a pardon)

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  2. al-Alameda says:

    I honestly haven’t given much thought to the Manning case, but it did seem to me at the time that the sentence she received was somewhat excessive given the nature of the offenses and the fact that she did express remorse in the end. Even so, granting even a commutation in this case, which would release Manning from prison but not remove the conviction from her record, is likely to prove to be controversial if the President does go forward with it.

    When it comes to Obama, in the eyes of his permanent opposition, even his selection of a salad fork is controversial

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. Jay Gischer says:

    I don’t know that I’d endorse “do whatever pisses off Republicans” as a good guide to policy. But I think I support commuting Manning’s sentence just the same. My own daughter is trans, and her transition was hard enough for us all without the added misery of jail, and their refusal to assist her transition. The sentence was very long by all standards.

    I do not, however, support a pardon.

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  4. C. Clavin says:

    Trump is under the influence and control of Putin, and Wikileaks is one of Putin’s propaganda channels…so why in the world would we not release someone who fed Wikileaks info?

    I have to say that Manning not getting the help he/she needs in prison is not a valid reason for his/her release…seriously…who does get the care they need in prison?

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  5. Argon says:

    Snowden too.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  6. Gustopher says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I have to say that Manning not getting the help he/she needs in prison is not a valid reason for his/her release…seriously…who does get the care they need in prison?

    I think we have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of our prisoners. I also think we do a piss-poor job of it.

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  7. Tony W says:

    Getting rid of private prisons would be a great start, but alas that may not happen in my lifetime.

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