On August 21, U.S. citizen Bradley Manning - now known as Chelsea Manning -was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified information to the public about the killing of civilians in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; drone strikes in Yemen; torture in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Egypt; the coup in Honduras; corruption in Tunisia, the U.S. use of cluster bombs, and the blockade of Gaza, among many other issues of public concern about U.S. foreign policy.
As Amnesty International noted, Manning has already served more than three years in pre-trial detention, including 11 months in conditions described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as cruel and inhumane. Amnesty is calling on President Obama to commute Manning's sentence to time served.
Under the Constitution, the power of the President of the United States to grant clemency is absolute. It is not subject to Congressional or court review.
When there was a public debate in the United States about the U.S. use of torture during the Bush administration, many critics of the U.S. use of torture correctly said: "it's about who we are."
Manning's sentence is about who we are.
Commenting on the Manning verdict, the ACLU said:
When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system. A legal system that doesn't distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability.
A cynic might say: What's the point of asking President Obama for clemency, when he's in charge of the system that put Manning in prison?
President Obama is indeed in charge of the system that put Manning in prison. That's why he's the correct address for the appeal for clemency.
President Obama was in charge when Manning spent "11 months in conditions described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as cruel and inhumane." But President Obama was also in charge when those conditions were changed. What made the change? Public pressure.
In a speech in New York in 1857 commemorating the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass said:
Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters...Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
Urge President Obama to commute Manning's sentence to time served.