January 18 2017
It is perhaps dangerously premature to call the commutation of the sentence of Bradley-Chelsea Manning President Obama's final outrage. There are, after all, three days left in his tenure in the White House.
The Manning commutation appears to be, as Steve Hayes put it last night on Fox, President Obama being the President Obama he always wanted to be.
Here from the Weekly Standard is a description of the president's action:
President Obama has commuted most of the 35-year prison term of U.S. intelligence leaker Chelsea Manning, whose disclosures were coveted by then-al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Manning is set to be freed this May after the president's order on Tuesday. The White House indicated in recent days that Obama was considering the move, downplaying Manning's actions in comparison to those of Edward Snowden, who had also petitioned for clemency. Per the New York Times, Press Secretary Josh Earnest granted that while the documents Manning provided to WikiLeaks were "damaging to national security, the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were 'far more serious and far more dangerous.' (None of the documents Ms. Manning disclosed were classified above the merely "secret" level.)"
However, Thomas Joscelyn noted that the documents Manning leaked were coveted by bin Laden himself. Quoting from an Associated Press report, at Manning's trial, "The government presented [an] uncontested written statement that former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden asked for and received from an associate the Afghanistan battlefield reports that WikiLeaks published. The material was found on digital media seized in the May 2011 raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, [lead prosecutor Maj. Ashden] Fein said. Bin Laden was killed in the raid." Joscelyn continues:
These "battlefield reports" are what Wikileaks refers to as the "Afghan War Diary," a trove of "over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010." Wikileaks withheld 15,000 of these reports from its initial release because even the anti-government group recognized the sensitivity of their contents. Still, the diary covers a "range of topics": "Improvised Explosives Devices encountered, offensive operations, taking enemy fire, engagement with possible hostile forces, talking with village elders, numbers of wounded, dead, and detained, kidnappings, broader intelligence information and explicit threat warnings from intercepted radio communications, local informers or the [Afghan] police."
It is easy to see why bin Laden would have an interest in the Wikileaks material. The files gave al Qaeda insight into how the U.S.-led coalition viewed the Afghan war.
Tom Cotton, whose active-duty service overlapped with Manning's, condemned Obama for his decision. "When I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Private Manning was undermining us by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks," he said in a statement. "I don't understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers, and allies. We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr."
Here is the commutation:
Offense: One specification of wrongful and wanton publication to the internet intelligence belonging to the United States; five specifications of stealing, purloining or knowingly converting U.S. government records; six specifications of willful communication of information relating to the national defense; one specification of willful communication of information in unlawful possession; one specification of willful communication of information relating to the national defense by exceeding authorized access to a U.S. government computer; one specification of willful communication of information relating to the national defense obtained by accessing a U.S. government computer; five specifications of failure to obey order or regulation; U.S. Army Court Martial
Sentence: 35 years' imprisonment (August 21, 2013)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on May 17, 2017.
Manning's actions are generally described as potentially fatal to U.S. soldiers and allies--indeed, it is likely that these actions did lead to the deaths of Americans or people working with Americans. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin described Manning's actions as "treason. Espionage at the highest level."
The Wall Street Journal offers the only plausible explanation for President Obama's commutation of the sentence of a traitor: Manning, who was once Bradley and now is called Chelsea, is a "gender celebrity."
The commutation of Manning also reveal that Obama's high dudgeon over the apparent Russian leaks of the less lethal nature as what they are: mere political posturing.
I have no faith in the press corps to get to the bottom of the reason for President Obama's last minute commutation today at the president's final (promise?) presser. They may manifest pique but they will not pursue him for a reason for this outrage. The implications for future traitors are vast.