Those of us who have held very high security clearances understand the necessity and responsibility to safeguard classified information. We have been entrusted with information of vital importance to our national security.
PFC Bradley Manning abused that trust. As do all who are granted security clearances, he had signed documents that clearly explain his responsibility to protect the information. Rather than abiding by his duty to protect classified information, he provided it to an unauthorized entity which published that classified information worldwide. Manning cared nothing about the consequences of his actions to his fellow soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen. He betrayed them and his country.
In July 2013, Manning was convicted of espionage, theft and computer fraud. His crimes included providing 700,000 classified battlefield reports, diplomatic cables, information on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and video of military engagements.
Manning stated that he leaked information that he believed would not harm U.S. interests. A PFC does not have the authority or the judgment to make such a decision. According to testimony at his trial, Manning was coordinating with Wikileaks about what to look for and then leak.
The Military Times reported that “the leaks laid bare some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets and endangered information sources.” The result was that “several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.” Apparently Manning did not care that enemy forces would be able to access the information. An investigation revealed that Usama bin Laden had some of the information on his computer.
A military judge found Manning’s conduct to be “wanton and reckless,” “heedless,” and “imminently dangerous to others.” Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison with a dishonorable conduct discharge, reduction in rank to private and a forfeiture of all pay.
Then on Jan. 17, 2017, President Obama, against the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense and senior Army officials, commuted Manning’s sentence. This occurred three days before relinquishing the presidency to Donald Trump. At that point, transgender Chelsea Manning had served seven years of the 35-year sentence.
President Obama justified his actions by stating that Manning had served a “tough prison sentence,” that her sentence was harsher than other sentences for leakers, and Manning had expressed remorse. “I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” said the president. He added that America is a “forgiving nation.”
Sen. John McCain who, as a prisoner-of-war, knows about tough prison sentences, commented: “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.” To commute the sentence of someone who did what Manning did because of a “tough prison sentence” stretches credulity.
Manning will remain on active duty after release from the Disciplinary Barracks because of pending appeal of the conviction. While not drawing pay, Manning will receive taxpayer-provided medical care according to current law. Manning also will be allowed to use the commissary and post exchange, walking the aisles with soldiers who served honorably and may have been harmed by Manning’s actions. If the appeal fails, Manning will receive a dishonorable discharge.
Although President Obama had the authority to commute Manning’s sentence, he also had a duty as commander-in-chief to protect those serving our country. President Obama failed in his duty and betrayed the trust that the military must have in its commander-in-chief. Rather than uphold the punishment that Manning deserved, the commander-in-chief chose to release Chelsea from prison. His priority was to forgive someone who put at risk the lives of military men and women. It was not to protect military men and women and diplomats who have and are serving multiple tours in ongoing wars.
Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.