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President Barack Obama commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked Army documents

Chelsea Manning

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 17th commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

The President also pardoned James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who pleaded guilty in October to a single charge of making false statements to federal investigators in 2012 when he was questioned about leaking top secret information on US efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to two journalists.

A presidential commutation reduces the sentence being served but it does not change the fact of conviction, whereas a pardon forgives a certain criminal offense.

Manning, a transgender woman and former US Army soldier, was serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, an all-male Army prison in eastern Kansas, despite her request to transfer to a civilian prison. A White House statement on Tuesday said her prison sentence is set to expire on May 17.

The material, which WikiLeaks published in 2010, included a classified video of a US helicopter attacking civilians and journalists in Iraq in 2007. Labeled “Collateral Murder,” the film drew criticism from human rights activists for the deaths of innocent people.

Though found guilty on 20 out of 22 possible charges (including violating the US Espionage Act), Manning was not convicted of the most serious one; aiding the enemy, which could have earned the private a life sentence.

Instead, the former intelligence analyst was sentenced to prison, as well as demoted from private first class to private and dishonorably discharged.

Surprise decision

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was opposed to the commutation, a senior defense official told CNN. And a former intelligence official described being “shocked” to learn of Obama’s decision Tuesday. The official added that the “entire intelligence community is deflated by this inexplicable use of executive power,” saying it was “deeply hypocritical given Obama’s denunciation of WikiLeaks’ role in the hacking of the (Democratic National Committee).”

Asked to describe the difference between the situations of Manning and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia after leaking state secrets, a source with knowledge of the White House’s thinking said there was a “fundamental difference” between the two.

Snowden, the source said, “dodged blame, fled the country and is hiding from prosecution,” whereas Manning admitted guilt without a deal and eventually confessed.

“She went through the process, acknowledged she had done something wrong. She was tried and sentenced,” the source said.

Because the Manning case launched WikiLeaks, the surprise about the decision was expected. The White House is aware that the intelligence community and the Pentagon may be dismayed by the decision, but, the source added, this “doesn’t set a precedent if you consider the distinction between the two of them to be material.”

Part of the thinking was that Manning’s term was quite “extreme” and “without historical precedent” and she had already served more than six years, the source said, adding that another factor is the personal and emotional side of the Manning story: she is transgender, in a male prison, “facing an uncertain fate behind bars.”

Snowden tweeted his support of Manning Tuesday, urging her to “stay strong a while longer.”

President-elect Donald Trump did not immediately comment on the matter, but when asked about WikiLeaks in the wake of the releases in 2010, he told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade: “I think it’s disgraceful. I think there should be like death penalty or something.”

WikiLeaks declares ‘victory’

Earlier this month, WikiLeaks said it would agree to a US extradition request for the site’s founder, Julian Assange, if Obama granted clemency to Manning. It was not immediately clear if WikiLeaks would make good on its promise, though the group declared “victory” in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

A senior administration official insisted Tuesday that Obama’s decision “was not influenced in any way by public comments by Mr. Assange or the WikiLeaks organization.”

Chase Strangio, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Manning, said he was “relieved and thankful” Obama commuted her sentence, and Amnesty International also cheered news of Manning’s commutation.

“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result, her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years,” Margaret Huang, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”

Republican members of Congress, however, expressed outrage.

“This was grave harm to our national security. and Chelsea Manning is serving a sentence and should continue to serve that sentence,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, denouncing Manning’s “treachery,” said on Twitter that she “put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets.”

And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN that Manning “stabbed his fellow soldiers in the back” and Obama “slapped all those who serve honorably in the face.”

Two-year sentence sought for Cartwright

Cartwright’s career was marked by decades of distinguished military service. From August 2007 to August 2011, he served as the second-highest uniformed officer and, before that, he served as commander of US Strategic Command. During his tenure in these posts, he held the highest security clearance, and retained top security clearance upon his retirement from the military in 2011.

The senior administration official said Cartwright’s motive mattered in Obama’s decision to pardon him, calling it “different than most people who leak info to journalists.”

“We are deeply grateful for President Obama’s decision to pardon General Cartwright. … Current and former leaders of the American national security community have, almost with one voice, stood up for General Cartwright. We thank them for supporting a man who is truly one of our nation’s heroes,” Cartwright’s attorney and former White House counsel, Gregory Craig, said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors had sought a two-year prison sentence for Cartwright in court filings earlier this month, but his attorneys asked for probation, emphasizing his desire to persuade journalists to modify their reporting to protect national security interests.

“General Cartwright understands the magnitude of his offense and deeply regrets the decision that he made … He has accepted responsibility and acknowledged his guilt,” his attorneys wrote in court papers.

“(I)n General Cartwright’s communications with both journalists, he successfully persuaded them not to report information that would be harmful to the United States.”

One of those reporters, David Sanger of The New York Times, submitted a letter in support of Cartwright explaining that “throughout the interview, (Cartwright) consistently showed his concern that information damaging to US interests not be made public.”

The other reporter, Daniel Klaidman, who wrote for Newsweek, also submitted a letter on Cartwright’s behalf, as did several current and former members of Congress, along with military officials from the Bush and Obama administrations, all urging the judge for leniency in light of Cartwright’s decorated military career.

Cartwright, 67, served 40 years in the US Marine Corps and was widely regarded within the military for his technical acumen and work in the areas of nuclear proliferation, missile defense and cybersecurity.

He was scheduled for sentencing before DC District Court Judge Richard Leon on January 31.

16 comments

      • Opinion8d

        So I’m sure you were all over the ‘Russian influence’ when Obama was caught with a hot mic telling Putin he’ll be able to do more after the elections?!?!? How about the millions foreign govts donated to the Clinton foundation?!?! How about George Soros and his meddling?? The reason Trump won because Clinton stopped campaigning -she thought she had it in the bad and would let Trump hang himself. She wasn’t nearly as active and didn’t really have a message -it had nothing to do with any Russian ‘influence’! Oh, and I’m sure you’re sure that the US never meddles in any other country’s elections……It’s about time we have someone in office that is talking about putting AMERICAN’s first!!

      • Texas

        I bet Putin won’t walk all over Trump like he did/does with Obama. The weakest president we have ever had. He makes Jimmy Carter look like a hawk. Russian global ambitions and controversy have advanced significantly during the Obama presidency. He’s a weakling and I’m glad he is going. It’s too bad he is causing more damage on his way out. This commutation is a slap in the face to every American. Manning is a traitor that compromised American security and national interest. The left has no morals. Pathetic.

  • Manny Costanza

    Edward Snowden asked Putin to talk to Obama about it and Obama was totally receptive. Obama will no doubt pardon Snowden before we pry his pen from his fingers. I wonder if he’s considering posthumously rehabilitating the Rosenbergs by executive order, too.

  • Clayton Bigsby

    Well maybe now that this fruitcake traitor will be freed the he/she will be successful on his/her 3rd attempt at suicide!!! Let this loser finish himself/herself off!!

    • Opinion8d

      He’s a he -plain and simple! Clearly mentally ill but should not have been let out early! Like your line of thinking!

  • deletedagain

    Obama is just part of a nation wide trend to put more felons on the streets. All the DAs and judges slap criminals on the wrist and send them out to re-offend. The border has been open to criminals for years. We are being destroyed from within.

  • Peter B. Hurting

    Five taliban murders, one PR terrorist, one “confused” Army private, one traitor Army dog, and a whole s–t load of convicted criminals! Communter (communist) – in-chief! So long, so sad, by the f–k by!!!

  • revrend Jesse Jackson

    MAN !!! DIS PIISN ME TF OFF BOY. AINT NO JOKE IM FUMING. ALL I WANNA KNOW IS HOW TF HE BE THINKN HE A GIRL N GOT DAT THANG HANGN LOW ? SOME EXPLAIN DAT TO ME. MAN DO HE BE TUCKN IT UP OR TAPING IT DOWN OR WHAT ? DO HE BE HAVN T-T’S ? HE GOPT DEM MOON BALLONS ? YALL KNOW ? WHAT HE BE LOOKN LIKE ? MAN SMDH DIS BE CRAZY WHY OBAMA DAT DUMMY BE LETTN HIM OUT LIKE DAT ? HE BE CHILLN WIT HIM N ALL DAT ? SMH THAT NASTY I BET HE BE WEARN PANTY HOES N ALL DAY WIT HIS DANGLER TIED IN A KNOT SMH NE NASTY AF THAT NASTY AF OBAMA BE NASTY AF N HIS WIFE NASTY AF TOO FOR ALL A DAT SMH YALL BE NASTY TOO FOR LIKN DAT

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