This past week, Barack Obama has been packing his bags to leave public office as Donald Trump prepares for his inauguration. However, he has also sorted through a host of potential commutations, and shortened the federal sentences of various individuals. Most notably, President Obama has shortened the jail sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former soldier in the U.S. army.
Manning was a private in the army who released hordes of information to WikiLeaks. She admitted to releasing over 700,000 documents, including battlefield reports and American embassy cables.
During her time in the army, she served as an intelligent analyst, and contacted Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) after trying to leak information to major news sources. Assange worked with Manning to publicly release a video showing a helicopter shooting at innocent civilians.
Manning was eventually arrested in Kuwait in 2013, and has served a large amount of time in solitary confinement. She is a transgender woman who has repeatedly stated that her life is in danger from being in an all-male prison institution. Previously, Manning was expected to not be released from prison until 2045, and would have had the longest federal sentence in history for whistle-blowing.
Obama shortened her sentence as a "signal that prosecutors have gone too far," and believed that Manning's lengthy sentence time would be too harsh. However, senior Defense Department officials have opposed Obama's decision to commute Manning's prison sentence. Many politicians are worried because Assange had previously stated that he would agree to be extradited to the United States if Manning was released from prison.
Republicans have recently criticized Obama's decision to shorten Manning's prison sentence, and some believe that this action is one of the worst mistakes of his presidency. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) affirmed that Manning's leaks were "espionage" and said they put American troops at risk. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has also spoken out against the commutation:
"This is just outrageous. Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes."
President Obama's action to shorten the sentence of Manning may be one of his most controversial decisions during his time in the White House. Federal officials are coping with backlash from the general public due to fear regarding Manning's severe crimes. Only time will tell whether or not Donald Trump attempts to fight Obama's commutation.
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