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.
“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.