Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s sentence; Ryan calls decision dangerous

The Wisconsin Gazette

The Obama administration announced the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence for disclosing classified information that raised public awareness regarding the impact of war on innocent civilians.

Manning reportedly will be freed in May.

“I’m relieved and thankful that the president is doing the right thing and commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence,” stated Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project representing Manning.

“Since she was first taken into custody, Chelsea has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and has been denied access to medically necessary health care. This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life, and we are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman, dedicated to making the world a better place and fighting for justice for so many.”

Manning, a transgender woman, is in the seventh year of an unprecedented 35-year sentence and has been forced to serve her sentence in an all-male prison.

The ACLU previously filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the appeal of Manning’s conviction, arguing the prosecution of Manning under the Espionage Act violated the Constitution because it leads to prosecutions where a court gives no consideration to the public interest. The ACLU also argued that such cases give the government too much leeway to selectively prosecute disfavored speakers.

Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward, Manning’s appellate counselors, said in a joint statement, “Ms. Manning is the longest-serving whistleblower in the history of the United States. Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation.”

The ACLU said the president’s decision comes after an outpouring of support for Manning since her unfair and egregious sentence and the ongoing mistreatment throughout her incarceration.

In December, the ACLU and more than a dozen other LGBT groups sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to grant clemency to Manning. An official White House petition with the same request contained more than 100,000 signatures.

The ACLU has represented Manning in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense that was first filed in 2014 over the department’s refusal to treat Manning’s well-documented gender dysphoria.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., responding to the White House news, issued this statement: “This is just outrageous. 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.”

For the record

The following is a statement released on Jan. 17 by the White House and from Neil Eggleston, counsel to the president:

Today, 273 individuals learned that the president has given them a second chance.

With today’s 209 grants of commutation, the president has now commuted the sentences of 1,385 individuals – the most grants of commutation issued by any president in this nation’s history.

President Obama’s 1,385 commutation grants — which includes 504 life sentences — is also more than the total number of commutations issued by the past 12 presidents combined. And with today’s 64 pardons, the President has now granted a total of 212 pardons.

Today, 209 commutation recipients — including 109 individuals who had believed they would live out their remaining days in prison — learned that they will be rejoining their families and loved ones, and 64 pardon recipients learned that their past convictions have been forgiven.

These 273 individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation, where hard work and a commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward.

Today, 273 individuals — like President Obama’s 1,324 clemency recipients before them — learned that our President has found them deserving of a second chance.

While the mercy the president has shown his 1,597 clemency recipients is remarkable, we must remember that clemency is an extraordinary remedy, granted only after the president has concluded that a particular individual has demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance.

Only Congress can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure over the long run that our criminal justice system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.