President Obama’s decision to commute the remainder of Chelsea Manning’s sentence has been met with outrage from several members of Congress. After weeks of speculation, Obama made the announcement on Tuesday that he had commuted Manning’s sentence for the 2010 leaking of documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Top Republican congressmen were quick to condemn the move, with many labeling the decision as a “failure” and a sign of Obama “siding with lawbreakers.” Republican House speaker Paul Ryan labeled the move as “outrageous.”
Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets.
My full statement ↓ pic.twitter.com/PcQrgK2SI3
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 17, 2017
“Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes,” Ryan stated.
Similarly, Senator John McCain called the decision a “grave mistake.”
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) January 17, 2017
“It is a sad, yet perhaps fitting commentary on President Obama’s failed national security policies that he would commute the sentence of an individual that endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats, and intelligence sources by leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents,” said McCain.
Republican Senator John Cornyn acknowledged that the ability to commute sentences like Manning’s are at the president’s discretion. However, he cautioned Obama for “granting clemency at an alarming rate,” saying it is “undermining out ability on criminal justice reform.”
During his time in office, President Obama has commuted 1,385 sentences and issued 212 pardons, a higher number than the past 12 presidents combined.
Manning was originally sentenced to 35 years jail due to the 2010 leak of over 700,000 documents and videos while working as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army in Iraq. The leak, which has been labeled one of the largest breaches of classified material in U.S. history, included video footage of a U.S. Army helicopter pilot intentionally killing civilians and journalists.
Also leaked were messages between United States diplomats discussing the detention of Iraqi prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay without a proper trial.
During sentencing, Manning accepted responsibility for the crime, citing the need to raise public awareness of the effects of war on civilians as her reason for doing so. Manning also stated that she was confronting gender dysphoria at the time of the leak.
Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Manning said the president’s decision “quite literally saved Chelsea’s life.” Despite undergoing gender reassignment surgery, Manning continued to be incarcerated in Leavenworth Penitentiary, an all-male prison in Kansas, where Manning’s legal team say she attempted suicide twice.
In a statement, David Coombs, Manning’s lawyer, has stated, “It really is a great act of mercy by President Obama.”
What remains unclear is whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will make good on his promise to agree to extradition to the United States following Manning’s release from jail.
If Obama grants Manning clemency, Assange will agree to US prison in exchange — despite its clear unlawfulness https://t.co/MZU30S3Eia
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) September 15, 2016
While the United States government has never officially announced their intention to indict Assange, he has been seeking asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for several years fearing extradition to the U.S. over his involvement in several high-profile information leaks.
In a statement to reporters, a White House official clarified that the decision to release Manning was in no way influenced by Wikileaks or Julian Assange. The official went on to state that the public can expect more commutations before Obama leaves office this Friday.
Manning currently stands to be released from jail on May 17, 28 years earlier than her original 2045 release date.
[Featured Image by U.S. Army/AP Images]