Seven Years Is Enough: Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s Prison Sentence

Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA


President Obama announced today that he is commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who has spent nearly seven years in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents when she was stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst in 2010. She will be freed in May. James Joyner is not pleased:

This is just not right. Obama has commuted hundreds of sentences, as have previous presidents. By definition, these are acts of mercy that explicitly reduce a sentence imposed by the justice system. His commutation of Manning’s sentence is no more a big FU to the military justice system than his other commutations are big FUs to the civilian justice system.

What’s more, there are several reasons to believe that Manning deserves this show of mercy. She released only low-level documents, not top secret ones. She was clearly in a good deal of mental distress when she did it. And she pleaded guilty to most of the charges and apologized publicly for her actions.

The biggest disconnect between those who approve of her commutation and those who don’t is undoubtedly a simple difference of opinion about how serious her crimes were. But there’s another disconnect that’s less obvious because so many of us barely even notice it anymore: the United States is a wild outlier when it comes to the length of prison sentences. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. A lot of people will shrug when they read that, but it’s insane by any kind of global standard. We hand out 15 and 20-year sentences like candy in America, while the rest of the world considers 5-10 years a severe sentence for anyone short of a serial killer.

Chelsea Manning will end up spending seven years in prison. By any non-crazy standard, that’s a very long sentence considering the circumstances of Manning’s crime. I don’t believe she was wrongly convicted—no government can possibly allow a soldier to expose a massive trove of state secrets without punishment—but I do believe that seven years is enough. Let it rest.

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.