In the waning days of his administration, US President Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning.
Manning – who was sentenced as Bradley Manning – leaked diplomatic cables and over 700,000 secret documents and videos to Wikileaks, the organization led by Julian Assange.
Manning has twice attempted suicide, and identifies as a trans-woman. Until the commutation, Manning was scheduled to remain in prison until 2045.
Opinion divided over Obama’s decision
Many have called for Manning’s release, and her lawyer says the decision “saved her life.” Julian Assange had said that if Obama agreed to commute Manning’s sentence, he would make himself available for extradition to the United States – though the US has made no formal request for Assange’s extradition.
Others are not happy about the move:
US Senator John McCain called the decision “a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage.”
Many in the intelligence community will also be unhappy, as Manning’s lengthy sentence had been meant as a message to other potential leakers about the severe punishment they would face.
Edward Snowden pardon not expected
While there is a connection between Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden, it is not expected that President Obama will pardon Snowden before leaving office.
Snowden has never served time in jail, and maintains he did nothing wrong. In contrast, Manning has been in prison for 7 years and has apologized.
The information released by Snowden is also considered more harmful (or informative depending on your perspective) and at a higher classification level than Manning.
These differences make a Snowden pardon unlikely. Despite that, Snowden tweeted his thanks to Obama for commuting Manning’s sentence:
Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama. https://t.co/IeumTasRNN
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 17, 2017
Patriots, or Traitors?
Manning’s case, as with Snowden, speaks to the deeper question of whether leaking government info is patriotic, or treasonous. It’s a difficult question. The government is not the same thing as the nation, and when a government becomes too oppressive and corrupt, it must be resisted and challenged, and it’s misdeeds must be brought to light.
However, the leaks of classified info can also put intelligence agents and military personnel at risk, and can empower enemy nations with info into operations that need to remain secret for legitimate strategic and security reasons.
Trump to take over
As Trump takes office in a few days, tension within the intelligence community is set to increase. Trump has had a contentious relationship with the US intel community, questioning their assertion that Russia is behind election-related hacking, and even comparing their possible leaks to the press to “Nazi Germany.”
After he is sworn in, Trump will be dealing with an intel-community under more pressure than at anytime since the failure of Iraq War intelligence in the mid 2000’s.