The civilian defense attorney for Pvt. Bradley Manning, who now goes by Chelsea Manning, has filed an application for a presidential pardon or commutation of Manning’s sentence.
The filing contains a letter written by her attorney, David Coombs, and a letter by Manning, which was made public during a press conference hours after Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on August 21.
Manning was convicted by military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, of committing multiple violations of the Espionage Act, embezzling government property and causing intelligence to be wantonly published on the internet. The conviction stemmed from the decision Manning made to provide copies of the “Collateral Murder” video, Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, a cache of US State Embassy cables, the “Gitmo Files,” and other government documents to WikiLeaks.
Coombs urges Obama to “take a positive step towards protecting whistleblowers who release information to the media for the public good by either reducing Private Manning’s sentence to time served, or by granting him a full pardon.” He suggests Manning has “already paid a heavy price for his conduct,” including being held for over three years in military confinement and spending a portion in ‘unlawful solitary confinement at Marine Corps Base Quantico.'” Manning also faced a “three-year protracted legal process” along with a “meritless aiding the enemy offense.”
“The length of Private Manning’s sentence is one that we would expect for someone who disclosed information in order to harm the United States or who disclosed information for monetary gain,” Coombs argues. “Private Manning did neither. Instead, he disclosed information that he believed could spark a meaningful public debate on the costs of war, and specifically on how we value human life.”
Compared to other cases where soldiers or officers were convicted of one or two counts related to sharing secrets, typically soldiers accused of acts of espionage were not overcharged or did not face the multiplication of charges from their acts like Manning did. The convicted act of espionage did carry a maximum punishment of at least twenty to thirty years, if not more, but there often was no charge of stealing the information in addition to the espionage-related charges. [For more context based off prior military cases, go here.]
“Although the government is entitled to protect sensitive information, the documents in this case did not merit protection,” Coombs declares. “Many of the documents released by Private Manning were either unclassified or contained information that the public had a right to know. None of the disclosed documents caused any real damage to the United States. Instead, these documents simply embarrassed our country by revealing misconduct by the Department of Defense and unethical practices by the Department of State.”
One of those State Department practices exposed was spying on officials at the United Nations. As for the Defense Department, the documents showed how the US military had ordered officers to look the other way and be complicit as the Iraqi Federal Police tortured or abused detainees handed over to them for interrogation.
Coombs states, “We rely upon whistleblowers, even in those instances that might cause embarrassment, to keep our government accountable to its people,” He calls Manning a “military whistleblower” and adds that the documents were “vital for a healthy public debate about our conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, our detention policies at Guantanamo and our diplomatic activities around the world.”
“The sentence given to him by the military judge grossly exaggerates the seriousness of his conduct,” Coombs further argues. “The sentence was disproportionate to both the offense and the offender. It will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers and damage the public’s perception of military justice.”
Amnesty International submitted a letter by Anne FitzGerald, director of research and crisis response, which indicates support for having Manning’s sentence commuted.
“While Bradley Manning faces many years in prison for the public disclosure of documents to WikiLeaks, numerous high-level officials have never been held accountable for the grave human rights violations committed during the United States’ ‘War on Terror,'” FitzGerald states. “Even in cases where low-ranking soldiers have been charged or convicted, they have received very light sentences. High-ranking officials avoided investigation for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq in 2003-2004. Eleven low-ranking soldiers were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted in courts martial, but they have all been released. The Brigadier General in charge of the detention facility was reprimanded for dereliction of duty and demoted to Colonel. No criminal charges have ever been made in relation to the US secret detention program where enforced disappearance and torture were authorized at the highest level of government. Details of the program remain classified.”
Indeed, as Manning serves a thirty-five year sentence in prison, journalist Jason Leopold has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the “Pentagon Papers of the CIA torture program.” It cost taxpayers $40 million to produce and is 6,000 pages. Yet, up to this point, the Obama administration has refused to disclose the report so it can inform public debate.
FitzGerald notes that materials Manning leaked “pointed to potential human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law by US troops abroad, by Iraqi and Afghanistan forces operating alongside US forces and by military contractors.” However, the judge would not allow Manning to present a defense that “he was acting in the public interest.”
“While the US government has the inherent right to maintain the security of classified information, national security cannot be a blanket justification to withhold information about serious human rights violations,” FitzGerald states. “The government’s asserted national security interest in withholding disclosure must be weighed against the extent to which the information disclosed relates to wrongdoing or other information of public interest and the disclosure should be reasonable in the circumstances and done in good faith.”
Manning’s statement on the sentence the judge issued appears under a section asking for “reasons for seeking commutation of sentence.”
“The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in,” the statement begins. Manning adds, “In our zeal to kill the Enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture; we held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process; we inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the al-Maliki government and we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.”
Yet, as Manning has done throughout, complete responsibility for actions committed is taken.
“When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others,” Manning concludes. “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”
“I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly ‘conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all [women and] men are created equal.”
Manning is seeking hormone therapy at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. According to Coombs, she “wants estrogen treatments that would promote breast development and other female characteristics, which she’d be willing to pay for.”
NOTE: Firedoglake has followed the wishes of Private Manning, according to this update:
While PVT Manning wants supporters to acknowledge and respect her gender identity as she proceeds into the post-trial state of her life, she also expects that the name Bradley Manning and the male pronoun will continue to be used in certain instances. These instances include any reference to the trial, in legal documents, in communication with the government, in the current petition to the White House calling for clemency, and on the envelope of letters written to her by supporters. She also expects that many old photos and graphics will remain in use for the time being.
If one believes Manning has been mis-gendered in this post, do a search. The uses of male pronouns should only occur when quoting from the filed pardon request or when specifically referencing something that happened in court during the trial. Otherwise, proper feminine pronouns are being used.