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A deserved commutation (Hindu)

Chelsea Manning, the American whistle-blowerea slapped with a 35-year sentence for leaking classified State Department documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, has had her sentence commuted by the outgoing President, Barack Obama. Earlier known as Bradley, she has gender dysphoria, is undergoing hormone therapy for gender reassignment, and has twice attempted suicide while being held at a men’s prison. She has served more than six years of her sentence and, assuming Mr. Obama’s commutation is implemented, could hope to be freed by May 2017. Even as White House officials underscored that the 44th President had commuted the sentence, not pardoned her, and thus had not removed a federal crime from her record, Mr. Obama insisted that “justice has been served”. Central to his argument was the fact that she had served time in jail after pleading guilty to 10 of the 22 charges, relating to espionage, fraud and theft, for releasing 2,50,000 diplomatic cables, 5,00,000 military reports, military videos from Iraq and Afghanistan, and dossiers on prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. When the cables and reports were blasted across the Internet and select media outlets by WikiLeaks in 2010, Mr. Obama had to send the then U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to various world capitals and assuage America’s allies in the face of uncomplimentary private comments by U.S. diplomats.

Mr. Obama’s decision to commute the sentence could not have come at a more fraught juncture in U.S. politics. WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, had promised to allow himself to be extradited to the U.S. if Mr. Obama freed Ms. Manning. Now he says he will abide by that promise. However, WikiLeaks also put itself at the centre of what has been a difficult American election resulting in the victory of Donald Trump, when it published emails of the Democratic National Committee allegedly stolen by hackers with links to Russia. Those leaks, along with other cyber-malfeasance associated with the highest levels of government in Moscow, are considered by many angry Democrats to have derailed Ms. Clinton’s run at the White House. Has Mr. Obama done a good turn to a group that played a role in the Democratic Party’s debacle in November last year? Has he opened up his party to attacks by Republicans for sending a “troubling message” to future leakers with information that could play into the hands of America’s enemies? Maybe. Yet what he has done for sure is to mitigate, in small measure, the U.S.’s reputation as a superpower that preaches about democratic values such as the right to dissent and freedom of speech, yet at home has come down with an iron fist on whistle-blowers.


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