Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045

18.1.17

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA Press).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next two months.

Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.

Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence.

I began a detailed study of the Guantánamo files leaked by Manning after their release in 2011, but exhaustion, and a lack of funding, prevented me from analyzing more than the 422 files I covered in detail in 34 articles totaling over half a million words, which are available here, although I do believe that my work on the files constitutes important research. One day I hope to complete the project, but even if I don’t, the files Manning released will provide historians with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the extent to which the so-called intelligence at Guantánamo is a house of cards built on torture and lies, and we should all be grateful to her for leaking them in the first place — just as there are reasons to be grateful for all the other documents she leaked.

Reporting the commuting of Manning’s sentence, Charlie Savage in the New York Times described how Obama’s decision “rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.,” adding “She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.”

Savage also noted how this, and a pardon for Gen. James E. Cartwright, “the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to FBI agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program,” were “a remarkable final step for a president whose administration carried out an unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaks of government secrets. Depending on how they are counted, the Obama administration has prosecuted either nine or 10 such cases, more than were charged under all previous presidencies combined.”

Obama also “commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that carried out a string of bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” who had been held long after the other members had been freed, and “also granted 63 other pardons and 207 other commutations, mostly for drug offenders.”

Manning will be freed on May 17, 2017 rather than in 2045, with a senior administration official explaining that the 120-day delay was “part of a standard transition period for commutations to time served, and was designed to allow for such steps as finding a place for Ms. Manning to live after her release.” Charlie Savage added that the commutation “also relieved the Defense Department of the difficult responsibility of Ms. Manning’s incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience providing.”

Several Republican lawmakers criticized the commutation, as did president elect Donald Trump, but Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward — lawyers representing Manning — were euphoric.

“Ms. Manning is the longest serving whistleblower in the history of the United States,” they stated. “Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation.”

Unlike Manning, no pardon will be forthcoming for Edward Snowden. On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest “discussed the ‘pretty stark difference’ between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy and Mr. Snowden’s,” as the Times put it, adding that, “While their offenses were similar, he said, there were ‘some important differences.’”

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said, whereas “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

Mr. Earnest also noted that “while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were ‘damaging to national security,’ the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were ‘far more serious and far more dangerous.’”

When Manning decided to make public files she uncovered, as Pfc. Bradley Manning, on duty in Iraq, she wrote at the time that she hoped they would incite “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.”

Charlie Savage noted that the disclosures “set off a frantic scramble as Obama administration officials sought to minimize any potential harm, including getting to safety some foreigners in dangerous countries who were identified as having helped American troops or diplomats,” adding that prosecutors, however, “presented no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Great, great news as President Obama commutes the sentence of Chelsea Manning, so she will be freed in May this year, and will not be held until 2045. This is a wonderful U-turn by a president known for his persecution of government whistleblowers. Manning had received a 35-year sentence, the most punitive ever delivered for a whistleblower. My article focuses largely on the important but overlooked role Manning played in leaking the Guantanamo files, on which I worked with WikiLeaks, which reveal the extent to which the so-called intelligence on the Guantanamo prisoners is largely a collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, after being subjected to torture, abuse, bribery and exhaustion, as the US tried to cover up its colossally incompetent and brutal dragnet of Muslim men, which resulted in Guantanamo being – with a handful of exceptions – full of lowly foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The full scale of this cruel and stupid story has not yet been made clear to the US people, but I hope that one day it will, and on that day Chelsea Manning’s contribution will be properly recognized.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello shared this and posted the following quote fro there article, followed by his own comment:

    Unlike Manning, no pardon will be forthcoming for Edward Snowden. On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest “discussed the ‘pretty stark difference’ between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy and Mr. Snowden’s,” as the Times put it, adding that, “While their offenses were similar, he said, there were ‘some important differences.’”

    “Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said, whereas “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

    GEESUS!!! Re: Edward Snowden: Josh Earnest’s statement is a load of Bullsh*t!!!!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    The Russian angle is the important bit, Sanchez. We seem to be between a rock and a hard place, with the Democrats positioning themselves for war with Russia – a very bad idea – while Donald Trump is in Putin’s pockets – another very bad situation, and one that I think is unprecedented when it comes to a president elect’s compromising business arrangements with other countries and individuals who seem, from the start, to be in a position to exert significant leverage on him.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. So good to have a piece of unadulterated good news as Obama prepares to leave office.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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