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Enraged Political Establishment Would Have Been Okay With Chelsea Manning Dying In Prison

The political establishment in the United States is absolutely irate at President Barack Obama’s decision to commute U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s sentence. There are also an array of journalists and professional security or military analysts, who are incensed as well.

What the emerging consensus seems to be is that Manning’s 35-year sentence for releasing over a half million documents to WikiLeaks was entirely appropriate. She may have struggled under abusive prison conditions and engaged in suicide attempts because she suffered from mental health issues, however, Manning betrayed the country to terrorists. Traitors do not deserve mercy.

There also is an argument against the commutation that suggests Obama awarded WikiLeaks a victory. Why should Obama do such a thing when WikiLeaks is a tool of the Kremlin that was used to interfere in the election?

It is a ludicrous argument, given the fact that Manning’s criminal punishment could have put WikiLeaks out of business. She was their first prominent source, and they were unable to protect her from incarceration.

Multiple statements about Manning’s “treason” were expressed on television, which is remarkable given the fact that she was not convicted of treason nor was she charged with any crimes of treason. She was charged with Espionage Act-related offenses, but those crimes are not espionage offenses. The military never alleged that she spied on behalf of a foreign power or terrorist organization.

These individuals have no outrage and barely expressed any disgust with Gen. David Petraeus when he leaked highly classified information that included code names to his mistress so she could write a biography that would lionize him. They do not care all that much about the fact that Obama pardoned—on the same day—General James Cartwright, who leaked classified information about the Stuxnet virus used to attack Iran.

“This Is Treason, Pure And Simple”

Retired Major General Robert Scales declared in at least two separate MSNBC appearances, “This is treason, pure and simple. She gave away to WikiLeaks 400,000 operational, not political, but operational documents that put soldiers in the field at risk.”

Scales added Manning put Iraqi citizens at risk, who were collaborating with the U.S. military. “If you’re a traitor and you feel bad about it, then that`s fine. It’s still treason. And treason, historically, in the military has been punished by very severe sentences, and she leaves after seven year, and that’s not justice. And it’s not justice to the people in uniform,” Scales added.

None of the military incident reports released contained troop locations nor did they include troop movements that would allow groups to use such information to attack the U.S. military. Plus, Scales is the co-author of a book called “Iraq War: A Military History,” which was published in 2005.

The book contains information from military decision-makers and after-action reports. As one review put it, it went beyond reporting to offer judgments on “planning and the conduct” of the war.

During one appearance, Scales said the Taliban had access to documents Manning published. If one extends his argument, terrorists had access to his book in 2005 and could wield the expertise of generals to help them win battles in Iraq. Obviously, no one would ever suggest Scales aided the enemy.

Scales said, when Manning gets out, she is “going to be a national hero,” and, “What effect does that have on our men and women in place like Iraq and Afghanistan?”

No amount of time in prison is going to diminish the number of people, who consider to be a hero. So, it would seem Scales might like a 50 or 60-year sentence so the possibility of citizens forgetting her entirely might increase.

“How Many People Died Because Of Manning’s Leak?”

Judith Miller, who was a vector for the dissemination of propaganda that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, reacted, “Obama commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning. How many people died because of Manning’s leak?”

The answer is zero. As far as the public knows, not a single individual is known to have been killed as a direct result of her disclosures. As for Miller, her journalism helped set the stage for deaths of a million Iraqis and thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Neoconservative hawk Dan Senor, who was the spokesperson for the Coalition Provision Authority in Iraq, provided background on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“When bin Laden’s compound was raided in Afghanistan, at the compound they found documents from the Bradley Manning leak. In other words, bin Laden, according to court transcripts, had requested these documents.” Senor said it enabled bin Laden to plan terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

The only problem is no evidence was ever presented to show whether bin Laden found the documents to be useful. The documents were published by news outlets, like the New York Times. If Manning was responsible for enabling bin Laden, then so, too, was the Times. By that argument, every journalist or scholar, who published stories or projects on the documents, helped bin Laden. That argument was unpersuasive to the military judge, and it remains just as unpersuasive today.

Bill Kristol, a neoconservative pundit and staunch advocate for the Iraq War, appeared on CNN and said what Manning did was “a wholesale attempt to make everything we had done in Iraq and Afghanistan available to our enemies.”

He also argued, “What is the effect of now what President Obama has done when someone else thinks, you know, I’m taking a risk cooperating with an American, and a dictatorship or something with intelligence agencies or in a war zone. And now, you know, they’ll be—well, maybe on the American side who don’t agree with the policy and leak against it.” They may think they can get a “radically less severe sentence than the military justice system” gives them.

“What Message Do We Send For The Next Person Who Thinks They Can Get A Treasure Trove Of Documents?”

This argument is part of a bipartisan consensus. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” with Chuck Todd, “We’re going to give a green light to people basically with all the hacking going on now, and the cyber attacks we’ve got going on.” (Note: Manning never hacked any systems.)

“At the end of the day, what message do we send for the next person who thinks that they can get a treasure trove of documents released, because something inspires them to do so, and the consequence that flow from that,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez declared on CNN. “There has to be serious consequences for that. And if at the end of the day you think you can do that and then have your sentence commuted, I’m not sure that we send the right message.”

Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy contended, “Obama will be blamed for every junior intel officer who goes of the reservation for the next 15 or so years. Quite rightly.”

Aside from the fact that this represents a level of callousness, the argument promotes pure ignorance. No person, who ever leaked classified information to a media organization, like Manning did, has ever received such a severe sentence. She was given a sentence someone, who sells secrets to a foreign power or enemy force, typically receives.

“Her Dishonor Will Last Forever”

In an appearance on CNN, former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said, “There’s not enough adjectives. I certainly can’t say it, even here on cable TV, how I feel about this decision.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared, “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.”

Senator John McCain echoed the dominant criticism and took it to a new level.

“President Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence is a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline. It also devalues the courage of real whistleblowers, who have used proper channels to hold our government accountable.”

“It is a sad yet perhaps fitting commentary on President Obama’s failed national security policies that he would commute the sentence of an individual that endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats, and intelligence sources by leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, a virulently anti-American organization that was a tool of Russia’s recent interference in our elections.”

McCain concluded, “Thousands of Americans have given their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq upholding their oaths and defending this nation. Chelsea Manning broke her oath and made it more likely that others would join the ranks of her fallen comrades. Her prison sentence may end in a few months’ time, but her dishonor will last forever.”

The dishonor actually lies among the political establishment of the United States. When President George W. Bush’s administration lied America into war, there were no consequences for officials. When Bush administration officials authorized torture and rounded up hundreds of innocent men and detained them cruelly at Guantanamo Bay, there were no consequences. When war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were no consequences. But when an all-source intelligence analyst followed her conscience and exposed the wars to massive scrutiny, punishment was immediately and harshly served.

In the era of President Donald Trump, there will be a need for whistleblowers to expose all the corruption, which most certainly lies ahead for citizens of the United States. However, given the Obama administration’s policy toward whistleblowers and the vigorous support for this policy by politicians, conscientious military officers and good government employees will have much to fear if they take the risk of releasing documents to the press so citizens can know dark truths about their government. The military made an example out of Manning, and it will take decades for her case to be forgotten.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."