“With Obama’s Forgiveness of Manning, Justice Takes a Backseat to Politics”
By: Chairman Michael McCaul
January 23, 2017
Last week, outgoing President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army soldier and WikiLeaks source formerly known as Bradley. In doing so, he set a dangerous precedent for future leakers and put his political legacy above justice.
The President’s main duties are to execute our laws and defend our country. But both of those responsibilities took a backseat with the decision to commute Manning’s sentence and set a traitor free. And it makes Americans less safe in the long run.
Let’s be clear about the crimes in this case: Manning leaked nearly three-quarters of a million military and diplomatic reports, revealing everything from war plans to sensitive diplomatic sources.
Manning was found guilty on six counts of violating the Espionage Act and was charged, though acquitted, with aiding the enemy—a crime punishable by life in prison without parole.
These were not the activities of a whistleblower. Instead, the public revelations gave our enemies a playbook for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting our soldiers’ lives at risk, and allowed sensitive documents—such as Afghanistan battlefield reports—to be delivered directly into the hands of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.
The documents also revealed the identities of foreign nationals, who at great risk to their own safety were secretly assisting the United States. Because of the disclosures, future diplomatic and intelligence sources will no doubt think twice before cooperating with the American government.
On top of everything, Obama appears to have pushed for this commutation against the recommendation of top advisors, including his own secretary of Defense.
It is telling that even prominent members of the former president’s own party would not defend the decision and even repudiated it.
Manning deserves every single day of the 35-year sentence handed down by the courts. And that sentence should serve as a warning and a deterrent to others who might consider compromising America’s secrets.
Yet with Obama’s decision, a very different message is sent to potential law-breakers that not only can you steal classified information and get away with it, but that you can become famous by publishing it.
Obama has undermined his own narrative that people like Manning and Snowden are not “patriots,” and he has given undeserved legitimacy to fringe groups who say they should be regarded as heroes.
They are not. They are traitors. And we must correct this reckless commutation by ensuring future leakers are held accountable and serve their time.
The contradictions in former President Obama’s actions are all too real. While he was denouncing intelligence breaches, Russian hacking, and the publicizing of private information, he approved the release of a criminal who helped bring global notoriety to Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange in the first place.
The irony, though, is not limited to the Manning case. In his final weeks in office, Obama boasted about his efforts to take the fight to terrorists overseas, all while releasing final batches of inmates from Guantanamo Bay—knowing that many are likely to return to the fight. And he emphasized his administration’s work to repair U.S. alliances, all while snubbing a close friend, Israel, at the United Nations and doubling down on a misguided deal with a persistent enemy, Iran.
It is clear President Obama was attempting to solidify his legacy on the way out the door. But history is more likely to remember that, in trying to shape a legacy of hope, he left behind a legacy of hypocrisy—and at the expense of our national security.
Read the original op-ed published in The Hill here.