Last week, it was rumored that President Obama was considering commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the transgender US Army private who leaked 750,000 pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. This week, the rumors turned out to be true, as Obama announced the commutation of Manning's sentence, along with 208 others. The president also pardoned 64 individuals, including retired General James Cartwright, who was due to stand trial this month for making false statements to the FBI regarding leaking classified information to journalists.
President Obama commuted Manning's 35-year prison sentence, which will now expire on May 17th of this year. Unlike a pardon, where the criminal offense is officially forgiven, the commutation only decreases the length of the sentence. Earlier this month, WikiLeaks said that it would allow a US extradition request for founder Julian Assange if Obama granted clemency to Manning. However White House officials have insisted that the president's decision "was not influenced in any way by public comments by Mr. Assange or the WikiLeaks organization. ”
The surprise announcement was praised by activists and rights groups, but also drew outrage from Republican lawmakers. "Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result, her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years," Margaret Huang, executive director of the ACLU, said. "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."
Senator John McCain called the commutation a “grave mistake” that would "encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline.” House Speaker Paul Ryan called the commutation “a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won't be held accountable for their crimes." South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said that Obama "slapped all those who serve honorably in the face."
One name is conspicuously absent from the list of those commuted or pardoned this week, that of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA employee, who has been living in exile in Russia, reportedly mounted "a last-ditch bid for clemency.” With only three days left before President Trump takes office, clemency for Snowden seems quite unlikely.