Chelsea Manning, A Heroine for Our Times
January 20, 2017
Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com & Lucy Steigerwald / AntiWar.com
Commentary: is Chelsea Manning a "traitor," as outraged neocons are now claiming? The answer is an emphatic "No!" Not a single document revealed by Chelsea's actions was labeled "Top Secret." The revelations following publication of these documents has been cleansing. While the commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence by President Obama is bad politics -- and, from my vantage point, the only moral act on his part that I can recall -- it took balls to do this and, for that, I have to give him credit.
Chelsea Manning, A Heroine for Our Times
Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
(January 19, 2017) -- The commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence by President Barack Obama is bad politics -- and, from my vantage point, the only moral act on his part that I can recall. It took balls to do this, and for that I have to give him credit.
One has to also note that the timing here is significant: with his party currently in the midst of a campaign to smear WikiLeaks -- and the President-elect — as a Russian tool, Obama's merciful act undercuts the entire basis of the charge that both Julian Assange and Donald Trump are agents of a foreign power.
After all, Manning's revelations were published by WikiLeaks, this supposedly perfidious agent of Russian intelligence. If the administration really believes that characterization of Assange's outfit, then doesn't freeing Chelsea -- the Natasha of Boris and Natasha -- encourage more acts of "espionage"?
Which brings us to the central issue in this case: is Chelsea Manning a "traitor," as outraged neocons are now claiming? Is she guilty of "treason," as the Fox News crowd -- yes, even the usually sensible Tucker Carlson -- would have it?
The answer is an emphatic "No!"
To begin with, she was never charged with treason. No doubt the government thought it could never get a conviction for treason, or else they would've done so. Part of the reason for that is that not a single document revealed by Chelsea's actions was labeled "Top Secret," which is in itself not a top-level category in our national security lexicon.
Secondly, in spite of testimony at Manning's trial that Osama bin Laden requested to see the Afghan war logs published by WikiLeaks, not a single person was killed or even injured as a result of this particular revelation.
The alleged harm to US national security was minimal to nonexistent -- but the benefits to the people of the Unite States, and the world, by the publication of these documents is incalculable. Among the revelations made possible by Manning's brave action were:
* The exposure of US war crimes, including a video of US pilots murdering innocent Iraqi civilians: two children were among the casualties. The pilots were laughing and joking the whole time.
* A State Department memo that characterized a US-backed coup in Honduras -- lauded by Hillary Clinton -- as illegal.
* US diplomatic cables that clearly showed how the British government pledged to cover Washington's ass in the Chilcott probe into how the UK was lied into the Iraq war.
* A cable that detailed the massive corruption of the Tunisian government and Washington's complicity in said corruption.
* A cable that clearly demonstrated how our own diplomats misled the federal government and the media when Georgia attacked South Ossetia and initiated a showdown with Russia.
* How the US and Britain broke a treaty outlawing cluster bombs.
* How a "vice president" of Afghanistan skipped town with $52 million "in cash" – our cash.
* How the government of Pakistan misused and outright stole millions of US taxpayer dollars meant to "fight terrorism."
* Cables detailing flimsy security at Pakistan's nuclear facilities, which could cause them to fall into the hands of terrorists.
* How the US spied on the United Nations, using its diplomats as intelligence agents.
* A cable by US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie in 1990 giving Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait, published by WikiLeaks in full for the first time.
* Cables showing that the US military covered up -- and condoned -- the disgusting torture by the Iraqi government of detainees, some of whom were murdered while bound.
This is a very incomplete list. For more, see here.
Yes, Chelsea Manning broke the law -- in observance of a higher law, one that compels those of good conscience to expose criminal and unethical behavior by those who hold power. For that, she should be honored, not jailed or demonized.
That all too many conservatives don't understand this isn't surprising -- ever since William F. Buckley, Jr., abjured the libertarian origins of the Old Right to crusade for "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores," conservatives of the National Review sort have been the enemies of the good.
Nor is it shocking that leading Democrats, such as Sen. Bob Menendez, are denouncing the commutation: "You cannot ultimately put the United States at risk because of your individual actions by making public critical documents that are classified and secret."
Recently indicted for corruption, Sen. Menendez is here adding moral corruption to his record as a public servant: for the idea that the State and its alleged "security" must trump matters of morality and individual conscience is the essence of the authoritarian -- and profoundly anti-American — mindset.
Although as of this writing President-elect Trump has not made any public statement on the Manning case, his spokesman, Sean Spicer, claims the PEOTUS is "troubled" by the commutation of what had been a 35-year sentence:
"You have an individual who's convicted of espionage sentenced to 35 years in jail and . . . to see someone who has given away this country's secrets and been convicted of it through military court, it's disappointing. And it sends a very troubling message when it comes to the handling of classified information and . . . consequences to those who leak information that threatens the safety of our nation."
It's hard to know what else any US government spokesman could say: it is the nature of governments, all governments, to guard their secrets. And it is hard to see how any secrets can be kept if they are allowed to "leak" promiscuously -- and yet this is precisely what government officials do all the time, most recently (and outrageously) those intelligence officials who are leaking evidence-free allegations against the incoming President.
Which is why I continue to be astonished at President Obama's act: it runs contrary to everything we libertarians know about the nature of government. But there you have it. One can only thank him, and hope that Chelsea will get over the trauma she's endured while continuing to crusade on behalf of justice and transparency.
What the Clemency of Chelsea Manning Means About Obama
Lucy Steigerwald / AntiWar.com
(January 19, 2017) -- I was desperately hoping to be wrong last week. I was delighted and surprised that I was indeed mistaken about President Obama being unlikely to pardon army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. My cynicism in the previous column was a challenge to the president, almost an act of reverse psychology.
Wonder of wonders, Manning will be free in May. This high note for Obama to end his presidency on infuriated authoritarians of all stripes, most of whom seem to be situated at National Review these days. Predictably, William Kristol pet David French was most angry. He, a man who more or less decided God wanted him to go fight in Iraq, thought Manning was getting off easy with her original sentence of 35 years, and that death would have been the only truly appropriate punishment.
The Barack Obama who ordered drone assassinations of American citizens, including -- allegedly by mistake -- that of a 16-year-old, and who went after whistleblowers with particular enthusiasm seems like a strange man to have passed out this mercy after Manning spent seven years behind bars.
However, if you'll pardon the attempted psychoanalyzing, as an act of the Obama who likes to think of himself as a man of the people, and a civil libertarian, and someone who did drugs, and got away with it, while others weren't so lucky, well, it's not as surprising. And it's not as radical a move as some people might be interpreting it.
The president explained himself in his final press conference on Tuesday. The majority of the occasion was a puffy salute from him to the White House Press Corp, and vice versa. However, a few real questions were asked of Obama, and the first was about Chelsea Manning.
In his answer, Obama demonstrated that there is a sweet spot of moderation that he, and often his supporters, believe it is possible to stand in. Edward Snowden will not be coming home soon, because he ran away after revealing the truth. He revealed what the Obama administration had done, as opposed to what George W. Bush's wars looked like. And he didn't face his "justice."
Obama said that he decided on clemency for Manning for various reasons, that "due process was carried out; that she took responsibility for her crime; that the sentence that she received was very disproportional -- disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received; and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made sense to commute and not pardon, her sentence."
There you have it, the man who might not have invaded Iraq himself, but broke Libya, and stayed in Afghanistan (and went back to Iraq). The man who spent his capital on a health care law that is flawed, and now in danger, and who set a precedent on drone warfare, and killing Americans that we will all regret sooner or later. And a man who finally, when he had almost nothing left to lose, decided to grant clemency to more than 1700 people who were either imprisoned, or suffering under the weight of a criminal record.
Not the savior or the villain that he was supposed to be, for every moment of Obama's presidency in which he acknowledged that the US wasn't perfect, when he even admitted specific past instances of bad behavior such as America's part in the 1953 coup in Iran, there was a signature drone strike, or an innocent person spied upon.
In many ways, he should get credit because he could have done worse with the grotesquely muscled executive power he was handed by the Bush Administration. In other ways, he should be filed squarely away with the leaders who talked a good game, and who did terrible things anyway. (Ronald Reagan's "government is the problem" rhetoric combined with his militarization of the war on drugs is one such example out of many.)
This was a president who didn't close Gitmo. He significantly reduced its population, but it's open eight years later as he frantically tries to get as many people out as possible before Donald Trump takes his place in the oval office. More importantly, perhaps, Obama took no steps to prevent future indefinite detainment of prisoners without charge or trial.
In fact, barring acts such as his clemencies, almost everything good Obama has done can be undone by the next guy. In that way, Obama assures the continued existence of executive power. His good moments, sure as the pardoning of Manning, were still at his majesty's pleasure. And she didn't get away easy, no matter what the hawks screech.
Seven years mostly in solitary changes you in concrete ways. It is only because of America's warped criminal justice system, and its perma-war state of mind that that time sounds like a light punishment to the bloodthirsty.
Certain writers at Antiwar have more optimism about a President Trump on foreign policy than I do, but nobody has any reason to think Trump will be pruning the NSA's budget or powers.
Obama and the White House Press Corp both seem entirely unconcerned with the surveillance system they just left in the hands of a man who the majority of the population dislikes, and who has said very little about the importance of the Fourth Amendment.
Clemency for Manning was one of the last acts of a man who probably does truly think she has suffered enough, but also realized that she had suffered enough that granting her a reprieve wouldn't kill his reputation, or make him seem a radical.
If you want to be particularly cynical, you might argue that Obama did it so that his war on whistleblowers would become a much hazier memory. He wanted to leave the Americans who didn't already think he was a communist Muslim on day one with a good taste in their mouths.
Obama on civil liberties was a smart slacker -- a leader who thought that stated good intentions, and some last-minute cramming was enough to get him an "A" on the assignment. He doesn't get one. He saved some lives, most likely Manning's, but he cost many more.
The best we can hope for from a president is that they occasionally choose to use their enormous power to do right. When they do wrong, when they go to war when they feel like it, or let people rot in prison, or allow intelligence agencies to spy on anyone, or anything else a president may do, that's the status quo.
Obama had his quality moments, but they were about his choices as a leader, not about putting up any safeguards to prevent Trump from doing whatever he wants, good, or bad, or catastrophic.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com. She has also written for VICE, Playboy.com, the Washington Post.com, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is www.thestagblog.com. Follow her on twitter @lucystag.
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