On Tuesday, President Obama decided to commute the sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s remaining prison sentence. Although rumors of the decision had been circulating for weeks, it was a very surprising change of heart for an administration that has earned a reputation for zealously prosecuting whistleblowers.
It’s easily the best news of the year so far, and Obama deserves credit for granting Manning freedom. Manning is rightly hailed as an American hero after leaking thousands of secret documents to Wikileaks, including US diplomatic cables, war logs from Iraq War 2, and a video feed from a US helicopter raid on civilians during Iraq War 2 that came to be known as Collateral Murder. Manning’s releases are credited with helping bring an earlier drawdown in Iraq (which unfortunately proved to be temporary) and sparking the Arab Spring.
All of which is the long way of saying that the commutation could not have happened to a more deserving individual.
But while Obama certainly deserves praise for this decision, it must be noted that he’s really just undoing some of the harm his administration caused previously. After all, Chelsea Manning’s conviction happened on Obama’s watch. And her prosecution was unprecedented, both in terms of the severity of the sentence and the nature of the charges. Indeed, the reason that Chelsea Manning’s future looked so bleak–driving her to attempt suicide twice while in custody–is because the Obama Administration threw the book at her, in an apparent bid to deter future whistleblowers.
For now, we should be grateful that Manning’s sentence has been reduced. We can also be grateful that President Obama is concerned enough about his own legacy that he wants to repair some of the damage he caused.
Finally, we can also delight in the new spectacle of watching Democrats and Republicans try to figure out which side of Wikileaks they’re supposed to be on this week. Do they celebrate/condemn Wikileaks for publishing Manning’s documents, which revealed corruption and wrongdoing in the Bush years? Or should they condemn/celebrate Wikileaks for publishing documents that exposed corruption in the DNC and the Clinton campaign? Personally, I feel bad for them. Choosing the right position is hard when you don’t have any principles.