After president Barack Obama commuted the sentence of military whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, who was arrested seven years ago for leaking more than 700,000 diplomatic cables, videos and documents to WikiLeaks, calls for pardoning other whistle-blowers like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have gathered pace.
Cenk Uygur, founder of the progressive YouTube newscast “The Young Turks,” was among the first to call on the American government to give serious consideration to clemency applications of Assange and Snowden. Both of them are controversial figures whose acts of leaking government documents to news organizations have divided America on partisan lines, but who have also been responsible for starting a much-needed public discourse on the importance of whistle-blowers in a time where governments all around the world are beginning to exercise unrestrained power without proper accountability to the citizenry.
In a video segment of the popular newscast, Cenk Uygur expressed relief that Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence was cut short by Barack Obama just before leaving office, but pointed out that it was in fact the Obama administration which had persecuted Manning aggressively in the first place.
“Prosecutors never presented any evidence that anyone got harmed by anything that Chelsea Manning leaked. So to give a 35 year sentence when you couldn’t prove that anyone was hurt by it…was unprecedented,” Uygur said in the video.
“The guy who said he was for transparency, actually in that regard, hated transparency. The reason she got a brutal and unjust punishment in the first place, was the Obama administration.”
Even so, Uygur expressed relief that at least there was some justice for Manning, who has previously attempted to take her life unsuccessfully at a male military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. But Obama’s actions have elicited a harsh reaction from certain government officials and a bulk of GOP leadership, who have argued that the commutation of Manning’s sentence will send the wrong signal and encourage espionage and future leaks of classified information.
But Obama defended his actions in his last press conference before leaving White House for incoming President-elect Donald Trump, arguing that Manning has already been adequately punished for her actions, according to the Guardian.
“The notion that the average person who is thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished … I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served.
“It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime … and that she had served a significant amount of time. That it makes sense to commute – and not pardon – her sentence.”
The commutation announcement has been welcomed in progressive circles and by people like Cenk Uygur who argue that whistle-blowers serve an important function by keeping the citizenry informed about what transpires in the power corridors of executive branches of governments.
President Obama commuting Chelsea Manning's sentence might be the best/most progressive thing he's done. I'm surprised, ecstatic & grateful.
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) January 17, 2017
Along with co-host Ana Kasparian, Uygur pointed out that people like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden had carried out significant tasks by leaking the details of anti-people snooping, which has been approved by the American government. Although Uygur remarks that he does not expect Julian Assange to extradite himself to the United States to face criminal proceedings against him, something the WikiLeaks founder had promised he would do if Manning was pardoned, he said pardoning Assange and Snowden must be done because they both their actions are driven by the interests of the people.
Technically, of course, Assange is not going back on his word because he had only promised extradition if Manning was pardoned, which is not the case. Barry Pollack, Assange’s U.S. based attorney, made that clear in a statement he gave to the Hill.
“Mr. Assange welcomes the announcement that Ms. Manning’s sentence will be reduced and she will be released in May, but this is well short of what he sought.
Mr. Assange had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately.”
— Raphael Satter (@razhael) January 18, 2017
With the coming of Donald Trump, who has previously called Edward Snowden a “tremendous traitor,” it is unlikely that whistle-blowers will receive fair treatment, but at least the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence once again raises hopes that all is not lost for people who dare to defy governments in the hopes of creating an informed citizenry.
Watch the video where ‘The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian make a case for pardoning Julian Assange and Edward Snowden below.
[Featured Image by The Young Turks/YouTube]