Former President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning during his final days in office.
Manning was serving a 35-year sentence, the longest ever given to a whistleblower. She has already served seven years of her prison term. Now, she will be released May 17 of this year.
The commutation is a welcome rescue for Manning, who tried to kill herself twice while serving time as a trans woman in a men’s military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Manning’s commutation has been met with stark Republican opposition. Rep. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”
Obama’s actions come as a surprise from an administration that has had a complex relationship with leaked information.
Throughout Obama’s term in office, he has strengthened whistleblower protection laws for federal employees who report “waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government.”
But Obama has done little to protect whistleblowers in the intelligence community, exemplified in former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s pardon application was denied by the former president. Snowden continues to be harbored by the Russian government, one of the many thorns that have contributed to a strained relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
The Obama administration has prosecuted more governmental leaks than all other previous presidencies combined.
Moving forward, President Trump has limited communication between governmental bodies and the public, barring tweets from various Environmental agencies.
Trump also tweeted that Manning was an “ungrateful TRAITOR” who “should never have been released from prison.”
Our future as a democracy relies on the systematic check of our government. Often that government can be complex and shrouded in secrecy. It takes brave men and women to speak out and inform the public about inhumane and unethical behaviors acted out by any administration.
The leaks by Manning and Snowden are priceless. The information they shared has contributed to public discourse and brought attention and accountability to U.S. government actions.
Manning was sentenced after sharing hundreds of thousands of military documents that indicated that the number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were much higher than reported. She also released a video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed two Reuter’s journalists and evidence of mistreatment of untried prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
Chelsea Manning shouldn’t be rotting in prison, and former president Obama made the right decision. While her actions violated the law, the intent to inform the public should be recognized.
We, as a people, should stand by our whistleblowers. They are the fifth-estate and help to establish a more transparent government.