When news broke late Tuesday afternoon that President Obama was going to commute the majority of the rest of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, many on the liberal-to-left end of the American political discourse rejoiced.
Manning, a transgender woman, was arrested for leaking diplomatic cables to Wikileaks during her time in the Army. The cables, now known as the Iraq War Logs, included evidence of US military troops committing war crimes in Iraq in 2007 and details of the inner workings of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Manning’s incarceration, a sentence of 35 years, was decried by human rights organizations and civil libertarians from across the country and around the world.
The news that she would be released seven years after her arrest was welcomed by people everywhere—at least those with a sense of decency and journalistic ethics.
However, this article is not about those people. It’s about those who found Obama’s commutation of Manning’s sentence an outrage.
First up is Media Matters for America’s Oliver Willis. A pro-war Democratic hack, Willis’s national security views include a rejection of US and international law, a fetish for drones, and a sneering hatred for non-traditional leaks of sensitive information. As news began to circulate over the last week that the president might commute Manning’s sentence, Willis took a deep breath and spent a few days preemptively scolding Obama for an act of decency.
And, of course, when the commutation came down, Willis signalled his disgust.
This kind of sneering, holier than thou monosyllabic grunt is typical of Willis' ouvre: there's no substance to his arguments, no actual ideas, just blind partisanship. Unsurprising, given that he works for an organization founded by David Brock for the sole purpose of getting Hillary Clinton elected to the presidency.
During her incarceration, Manning was frequently subjected to solitary confinement.
For 17 hours a day, I sat directly in front of at least two Marine Corps guards seated behind a one-way mirror. I was not allowed to lay down. I was not allowed to lean my back against the cell wall. I was not allowed to exercise.
Next up is Business Insider editor Josh Barro. The former Grover Norquist intern who waited until October 2016 to renounce the Republican Party sniffily disapproved of the example set by the president not forcing Manning to serve another 28 years in military prison.
Ah yes, the public message. Perhaps that's why Barro waited so long to renounce the Republican Party. The GOP's social, economic, and militaristic positions were okay until Trump was a little too vulgar on Twitter one day. All that matters is how the message is framed and delivered. The actual content is meaningless unless, of course, it challenges the national security apparatus of the state.
Manning attempted suicide twice in the last six months, once in July and again in October of 2016.
I am not alone in my struggle. Suicide pervades the trans community. The risk among our trans siblings with no or inadequate treatment is staggering. In comparison with the general population, the risk is a full order of magnitude higher. While a specific suicide rate among trans prisoners is not available, it is estimated to be significantly higher than among the community outside.
Perhaps the worst take on Manning's commutation came from Judith Miller, the disgraced former New York Times reporter whose wide-eyed stenography for the Bush administration in the months leading up to the Iraq War led a majority of US citizens to support the pretense for that war. Miller tweeted out the following with apparent sincerity:
It’s actually not hard to know how many people died because of Manning’s actions, mostly because the number is zero. There has never been any evidence provided of direct linkages between Manning’s leaks and the deaths of any US assets, officials, or military personnel. Nor has anyone ever produced evidence of Manning’s actions leading to the deaths of civilians in far off countries. Miller, on the other hand, killed over 1 million people with her lies.
The war Miller’s “reporting” helped to start was so morally corrupt, it sparked Manning to action.
“We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.
There were other terrible takes from the centrist liberal cohort in the hours after Manning’s commutation was announced. For example, unverified Crooks and Liars managing editor Karoli Kuns cast aside years of attacks on Manning in an act of naked opportunism to cheer her commutation as a moment of activist success (Karoli had slammed Manning and hoped for Manning’s continued imprisonment less than a week earlier).
The usual suspects from the extreme right made an appearance too. It’s telling that their perspectives are not much different than the self-described “liberals” above.
Child support non-payer Joe Walsh called the commutation “bullshit,” while openly-a-Nazi-now Ann Coulter called for Obama’s impeachment. Senator John McCain called the commutation an “11” on a scale of 1- 10 (with 10 being the worst) while newly bearded natsec neocon Senator Tom Cotton called Manning a “traitor.”
They’re on the wrong side of history. Remember Martin Luther King’s quote in the week of his national holiday: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The future belongs to Chelsea.
Her next Christmas will be spent in freedom and among friends and family, an impossible dream that she didn’t give up on.
I endure. I refuse to give up. I open the mail I receive—which spikes in December, as people send me birthday and then Christmas cards, but I get letters and well-wishing cards all year—and am happily reminded that I am real and that I do exist for people outside this prison.
You can reach Eoin Higgins on Facebook and Twitter.