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Chelsea Manning: Obama commutes whistleblower's sentence

Barack Obama has commuted the sentence of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.

The White House says Manning is one of 209 inmates whose sentences Mr Obama is shortening. The whistleblower will be freed on 17 May.

Manning is more than six years into her 35 year sentence for leaking classified government and military documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Her sentence is now set to expire on May 17.

She was known as Bradley Manning at the time of her 2010 arrest and attempted suicide twice last year.

Mr Obama is also pardoning 64 people, including retired General James Cartwright, who was charged with making false statements during a probe into disclosure of classified information.

Most of the other people receiving commutations were serving sentences for non-violent drug offences.

The former US Army intelligence analyst was jailed in 2010 after handing 700,000 military files, diplomatic cables and videos to WikiLeaks. The material was published by WikiLeaks and other media outlets between April and November 2010.

The material included:

- Video of July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike,

- Video of the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan

- 251,287 US diplomatic cables

- 482,832 Army reports (Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary).

Manning has tried to kill herself twice in the past year, and went on hunger strike in September in a bid to receive gender reassignment surgery.

Manning told the Guardian she had not had the “chance to live” yet after spending most of her adult life “either homeless, in the military or in prison”.

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Manning pleaded guilty to a range of charges in 2010, including violations of the Espionage Act. After sentencing, she delivered an apology to the court, which has been broadcast for the very first time by NBC.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that they hurt the United States," she said.

"I understand that I must pay the price for my decisions and actions.”

More than 117,000 people have signed a petition launched in November calling for her sentence to be reduced.

Background

Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the gravest charge laid against him by the US government. She was, however, found guilty of 19 other charges including espionage, theft and computer fraud.

Following the verdict, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused President Barack Obama of "national security extremism," referring to Manning "the most important journalistic source the world has ever seen".

"The government kept Bradley Manning in a cage, stripped him naked and isolated him in order to break him, an act formally condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for torture. This was never a fair trial," Assange said from inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

"It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short-sighted judgment that cannot be tolerated and it must be reversed."

“It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning's trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you,” Amnesty International noted.

Making a statement in alongside his guilty pleas in 2013, Manning said he wanted to reveal the “bloodlust” of the US military and so-called disregard for human life.

He transmitted his first batch of papers to WikiLeaks, founded by Assange, on 3 February 2001 with an attached note. “This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war, and revealing the true nature of the 21st century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.”

Thereafter he handed over more than 700,000 documents, including battlefield notes from Iraq and Afghanistan and a video of a US helicopter attack in Baghdad. Last month marked the fifth anniversary of the release of the 'Collateral Murder' video which showed a July 12, 2007 US Apache attack helicopter attack upon individuals in a Baghdad suburb.

The attack killed twelve people including a Reuters photographer and his driver.

On August 21, 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. On the day after her sentencing, Manning announced via a statement on the morning talk show Today that she is transgender and wanted to be known as Chelsea.

The whistleblower behind the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, called Manning a 'hero'.

Seven things we would not have known without whistleblowers

Here are other notable whistleblowers - and the stories that might otherwise have remained untold.

1 Richard Nixon's abuses of presidential power

Possibly the most famous case of whistleblowing, In the early 1970s Mark Felt leaked highly classified documents to two young journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at the Washington Post, in a expose that would become the world-famous Watergate.

Mr Felt’s disclosures would eventually lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, exposing a myriad of political abuses, and triggered what Vanity Fair described in 2005 as “the most serious constitutional crisis since the 1868 impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson”.

2 Israel’s nuclear programme

Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, released details of Israel’s secret nuclear reactor, next to the desert town of Dimona, to the Sunday Times in the 1980s. Vanunu was abducted by Israeli security agents after publication.

He subsequently spent 18 years in jail (11 years of which were reportedly in solitary confinement) before his release in 2004. He spent an additional three months for violating his release terms.

3 Bill Clinton's 'relations' with Monica Lewinsky

The affair that almost brought down the White House was partially exposed by whistleblower Linda Tripp who secretly recorded conversation with Monica Lewinsky in 1998.

She later told the Office of Independent Counsel that Ms Lewinsky had committed perjury when Ms Lewinsky claimed she had not had an affair with Mr Clinton.

4 Failed attempt on Muammar Gaddafi’s life

MI5 officer David Shayler, along with girlfriend Annie Machon, resigned from the British Secret Service in 1996 to expose information alleging criminal activity by the service.

Among the information – some of which was later upheld in court – Mr Shayler claimed that MI6 was involved in an attempt to kill Gaddafi without the permission of then foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. The plot allegedly failed but did kill several civilians.

5 NSA’s illegal wiretaps

Although other – better known – whistleblowers also spoke out about the NSA’s (National Security Agency) violations, Russ Tice was the first to do so.

In 2005 he was the major source for a New York Times expose on the agency’s unconstitutional wiretaps, a piece that later was built on by Edward Snowdon’s extensive revelations.

6 Systematic NYPD corruption

Over 11 years working for the New York City Police Department Frank Serpico – later immortalised by Al Pacino – uncovered widespread evidence of systematic corruption.

Although Mr Serpico attempted for years to work within the system to prevent changes (making himself hugely unpopular within the NYPD) it was a front page New York Times expose in 1970 that prompted an official investigation.

7 HSBC helped clients evade millions of dollars in tax

Former computer systems analyst Herve Falciani exposed the fraud in the Swiss arm of HSBC by carrying out one of the biggest data leaks in the history of banking.

Mr Falciani used the confidential data of over 106,000 customers across 200 countries, collected between 2006 and 2007, to expose the bank's actions.

The Swiss authorities have accused Mr Falciani of attempting to sell off the data, but he maintains he exposed a "broken" system.

Julian Assange's statement on the first day of Manning trial

Monday 3rd June 2013

4 June 2013

As I type these lines, on June 3, 2013, Private First Class Bradley Edward Manning is being tried in a sequestered room at Fort Meade, Maryland, for the alleged crime of telling the truth. The court martial of the most prominent political prisoner in modern US history has now, finally, begun.

It has been three years. Bradley Manning, then 22 years old, was arrested in Baghdad on May 26, 2010. He was shipped to Kuwait, placed into a cage, and kept in the sweltering heat of Camp Arifjan.

"For me, I stopped keeping track," he told the court last November. "I didn’t know whether night was day or day was night. And my world became very, very small. It became these cages... I remember thinking I’m going to die."

After protests from his lawyers, Bradley Manning was then transferred to a brig at a US Marine Corps Base in Quantico, VA, where - infamously - he was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of his captors - a formal finding by the UN. Isolated in a tiny cell for twenty-three out of twenty-four hours a day, he was deprived of his glasses, sleep, blankets and clothes, and prevented from exercising. All of this - it has been determined by a military judge - "punished" him before he had even stood trial.

"Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched, I believe, in our nation’s history, as a disgraceful moment in time" said his lawyer, David Coombs. "Not only was it stupid and counterproductive, it was criminal."

The United States was, in theory, a nation of laws. But it is no longer a nation of laws for Bradley Manning.

When the abuse of Bradley Manning became a scandal reaching all the way to the President of the United States and Hillary Clinton’s spokesman resigned to register his dissent over Mr. Manning’s treatment, an attempt was made to make the problem less visible. Bradley Manning was transferred to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

He has waited in prison for three years for a trial - 986 days longer than the legal maximum - because for three years the prosecution has dragged its feet and obstructed the court, denied the defense access to evidence and abused official secrecy. This is simply illegal - all defendants are constitutionally entitled to a speedy trial - but the transgression has been acknowledged and then overlooked.

Against all of this, it would be tempting to look on the eventual commencement of his trial as a mercy. But that is hard to do.

We no longer need to comprehend the "Kafkaesque" through the lens of fiction or allegory. It has left the pages and lives among us, stalking our best and brightest. It is fair to call what is happening to Bradley Manning a "show trial". Those invested in what is called the "US military justice system" feel obliged to defend what is going on, but the rest of us are free to describe this travesty for what it is. No serious commentator has any confidence in a benign outcome. The pretrial hearings have comprehensively eliminated any meaningful uncertainty, inflicting pre-emptive bans on every defense argument that had any chance of success.

Bradley Manning may not give evidence as to his stated intent (exposing war crimes and their context), nor may he present any witness or document that shows that no harm resulted from his actions. Imagine you were put on trial for murder. In Bradley Manning’s court, you would be banned from showing that it was a matter of self-defence, because any argument or evidence as to intent is banned. You would not be able to show that the ’victim’ is, in fact, still alive, because that would be evidence as to the lack of harm.

But of course. Did you forget whose show it is?

The government has prepared for a good show. The trial is to proceed for twelve straight weeks: a fully choreographed extravaganza, with a 141-strong cast of prosecution witnesses. The defense was denied permission to call all but a handful of witnesses. Three weeks ago, in closed session, the court actually held a rehearsal. Even experts on military law have called this unprecedented.

Bradley Manning’s conviction is already written into the script. The commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, Barack Obama, spoiled the plot for all of us when he pronounced Bradley Manning guilty two years ago. "He broke the law," President Obama stated, when asked on camera at a fundraiser about his position on Mr. Manning. In a civilized society, such a prejudicial statement alone would have resulted in a mistrial.

To convict Bradley Manning, it will be necessary for the US government to conceal crucial parts of his trial. Key portions of the trial are to be conducted in secrecy: 24 prosecution witnesses will give secret testimony in closed session, permitting the judge to claim that secret evidence justifies her decision. But closed justice is no justice at all.

What cannot be shrouded in secrecy will be hidden through obfuscation. The remote situation of the courtroom, the arbitrary and discretionary restrictions on access for journalists, and the deliberate complexity and scale of the case are all designed to drive fact-hungry reporters into the arms of official military PR men, who mill around the Fort Meade press room like over-eager sales assistants. The management of Bradley Manning’s case will not stop at the limits of the courtroom. It has already been revealed that the Pentagon is closely monitoring press coverage and social media discussions on the case.

This is not justice; never could this be justice. The verdict was ordained long ago. Its function is not to determine questions such as guilt or innocence, or truth or falsehood. It is a public relations exercise, designed to provide the government with an alibi for posterity. It is a show of wasteful vengeance; a theatrical warning to people of conscience.

The alleged act in respect of which Bradley Manning is charged is an act of great conscience - the single most important disclosure of subjugated history, ever. There is not a political system anywhere on the earth that has not seen light as a result. In court, in February, Bradley Manning said that he wanted to expose injustice, and to provoke worldwide debate and reform. Bradley Manning is accused of being a whistleblower, a good man, who cared for others and who followed higher orders. Bradley Manning is effectively accused of conspiracy to commit journalism.

But this is not the language the prosecution uses. The most serious charge against Bradley Manning is that he "aided the enemy" - a capital offence that should require the greatest gravity, but here the US government laughs at the world, to breathe life into a phantom. The government argues that Bradley Manning communicated with a media organisation, WikiLeaks, who communicated to the public. It also argues that al-Qaeda (who else) is a member of the public. Hence, it argues that Bradley Manning communicated "indirectly" with al-Qaeda, a formally declared US "enemy", and therefore that Bradley Manning communicated with "the enemy".

But what about "aiding" in that most serious charge, "aiding the enemy"? Don’t forget that this is a show trial. The court has banned any evidence of intent. The court has banned any evidence of the outcome, the lack of harm, the lack of any victim. It has ruled that the government doesn’t need to show that any "aiding" occurred and the prosecution doesn’t claim it did. The judge has stated that it is enough for the prosecution to show that al-Qaeda, like the rest of the world, reads WikiLeaks.

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people," wrote John Adams, "who have a right and a desire to know.”

When communicating with the press is "aiding the enemy" it is the "general knowledge among the people" itself which has become criminal. Just as Bradley Manning is condemned, so too is that spirit of liberty in which America was founded.

In the end it is not Bradley Manning who is on trial. His trial ended long ago. The defendent now, and for the next 12 weeks, is the United States. A runaway military, whose misdeeds have been laid bare, and a secretive government at war with the public. They sit in the docks. We are called to serve as jurists. We must not turn away.

Statement by Julian Assange on verdict in Bradley Manning court-martial

30 July 2013

Today Bradley Manning, a whistleblower, was convicted by a military court at Fort Meade of 20 offences for supplying the press with information, including six counts of ’espionage’. He now faces a maximum sentence of 136 years.

The ’aiding the enemy’ charge has fallen away. It was only included, it seems, to make calling journalism ’espionage’ seem reasonable. It is not.

Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures have exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions, and induced democratic reform. He is the quintessential whistleblower.

This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is ’espionage’.

President Obama has initiated more espionage proceedings against whistleblowers and publishers than all previous presidents combined.

In 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on a platform that praised whistleblowing as an act of courage and patriotism. That platform has been comprehensively betrayed. His campaign document described whistleblowers as watchdogs when government abuses its authority. It was removed from the internet last week.

Throughout the proceedings there has been a conspicuous absence: the absence of any victim. The prosecution did not present evidence that - or even claim that - a single person came to harm as a result of Bradley Manning’s disclosures. The government never claimed Mr. Manning was working for a foreign power.

The only ’victim’ was the US government’s wounded pride, but the abuse of this fine young man was never the way to restore it. Rather, the abuse of Bradley Manning has left the world with a sense of disgust at how low the Obama administration has fallen. It is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

The judge has allowed the prosecution to substantially alter the charges after both the defense and the prosecution had rested their cases, permitted the prosecution 141 witnesses and extensive secret testimony. The government kept Bradley Manning in a cage, stripped him naked and isolated him in order to crack him, an act formally condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for torture. This was never a fair trial.

The Obama administration has been chipping away democratic freedoms in the United States. With today’s verdict, Obama has hacked off much more. The administration is intent on deterring and silencing whistleblowers, intent on weakening freedom of the press.

The US first amendment states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". What part of ’no’ does Barack Obama fail to comprehend?

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