Freeing a National Hero

Barack Obama’s decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence is praiseworthy


Timothy Krause

Sadly, this mural no longer exists, having been taken down (or covered over) by some newly-laid brickwork (quite similar to that in the picture to the left of the mural, behind the table). Chelsea Manning has been similarly removed-immured, locked away for years in the name of American justice.

President Barack Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former Army private who leaked thousands of government documents, videos, and cables to Wikileaks in 2010, leaving scores of government official and politicians shocked.

Manning, who came out as transgender in 2013, leaked State Department cables divulging information of the unethical tactics used by U.S. diplomats to monitor world leaders. The documents also contained plans to strike down the Iran nuclear program and a video of a U.S. helicopter killing Iraqi citizens believed to be insurgents.

During her trial, Manning took full responsibility for her actions and admitted the dangers they posed to U.S. relations with allies and enemies. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, the highest sentence for someone convicted of leaking government information.

Now that her sentence has been commuted, Manning will be released in May of this year instead of 2045. However, intelligence officials, Defense Department heads and Republican senators are furious over the president’s decision. Many believe that the move promotes a tolerance for whistleblowers.

In his official statements, press secretary Josh Earnest has said that the president’s decision was based on the weight of her actions in comparison to other criminals.

In this perspective, it is clear that this was the right decision to make.

There is no comparison to Edward Snowden, the former Intelligence Community officer who leaked highly sensitive information on the National Security Agency. Manning stood trial and faced the consequences of her actions. Snowden fled the country and found refuge in the arms of an adversary.

Aside from that, Manning’s leaks weren’t as damaging as the delicate information that Snowden released to the entire world. Manning’s decision in 2010 to leak the video showing a U.S. helicopter killing civilians was morally right. How are we supposed to trust our government if they try to cover up travesties like this? Manning demanded honesty and transparency at the risk of her job and life.

The president’s decision to commute her sentence is warranted and shouldn’t not be criticized but admired. In doing so, Obama reinforced the need for government transparency that Manning strived for. His decision not only reaffirms the United States’ stance on whistleblowers, but also strengthens the ideals of democracy and justice in this country.