President Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning for serious violations of the Espionage Act involving the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the alleged Russian front known as Wikileaks. Manning has served not quite seven years of her sentence. At the time she committed her offenses, Manning had access to sensitive documents serving an intelligence function in Iraq. Manning was accordingly tried and convicted by a military tribunal. The New York Times summarizes the documents disclosed by Manning as follows:
She copied hundreds of thousands of military incident logs from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which, among other things, exposed abuses of detainees by Iraqi military officers working with American forces and showed that civilian deaths in the Iraq war were probably much higher than official estimates.
The files she copied also included about 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world showing sensitive deals and conversations, dossiers detailing intelligence assessments of Guantánamo detainees held without trial, and a video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in which two Reuters journalists were killed, among others.
She decided to make all these files public, as she wrote at the time, in the hope that they would incite “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” WikiLeaks disclosed them — working with traditional news organizations including The New York Times — bringing notoriety to the group and its founder, Julian Assange.
For those like me who need their memory refreshed, the Times adds this:
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. Prosecutors, however, presented no evidence that anyone was killed because of the leaks.
At her court-martial, Ms. Manning confessed in detail to her actions and apologized, saying she had not intended to put anyone at risk and noting that she had been “dealing with a lot of issues” at the time she made her decision.
Testimony at the trial showed that she had been in a mental and emotional crisis as she came to grips, amid the stress of a war zone, with the fact that she was not merely gay but had gender dysphoria. She had been behaving erratically, including angry outbursts and lapsing into catatonia midsentence. At one point she had emailed a photograph of herself in a woman’s wig to her supervisor.
As Jack Paar used to say: I kid you not.
Manning was convicted of enormities. She did great damage. Manning’s defense as recalled by the Times amounted to sexual confusion. In other words, she had no defense. I have seen no rationale offered by the White House to support Obama’s commutation. White House flack Josh Earnest’s comments at today’s press conference don’t make out a rationale.
Among other things, Obama’s act here seems to me display in roughly equal parts animus against the national security of the United States and hypocrisy about the perfidy of Wikileaks. Obama seems determined to pack as much damage into his departure from office as reasonably possible.