Reaction Varies To Chelsea Manning's Prison Sentence Being Shortened
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Amnesty International says President Obama was right to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
House Speaker Paul Ryan says the act was outrageous.
INSKEEP: Her lawyer says the move will save the life of a prisoner who was often held in solitary confinement.
MARTIN: Senator John McCain says it's a, quote, "grave mistake that will undermine military discipline."
INSKEEP: Chelsea Manning was the former Army private who gave sensitive military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks, thousands of them, in fact. Her sentence of 35 years is being cut short and now ends in May. And NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in our studios to talk about it. Good morning, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Why do this?
BOWMAN: Well, the White House basically said Manning was tried and convicted, did her time, seven years, which is a lot of time in prison. Others have - who've leaked classified information have done a lot less time. This was the longest term ever for a leak conviction.
INSKEEP: It was a really big leak, though, we should emphasize. This was thousands of documents.
BOWMAN: It was. It was hundreds of thousands of documents. And also, she admitted her guilt as well. And another factor, as you alluded to, was - seems to be the stress from Manning's gender transition. She's at the men's prison at Fort Leavenworth, tried to kill herself a couple of times. There were concerns about her mental health as well as her safety.
INSKEEP: Is it clear that the gender transition concern was part of this? The fact that she'd been going through this...
BOWMAN: It seems to be that, that there was a concern about that.
MARTIN: So what does all this mean for people in military national security circles? How are they responding to this commutation?
BOWMAN: Well, I spoke with a senior officer last night who said this commutation was a slap in the face, that this would send a message it's not a big deal to release classified information. And this release of information was published by WikiLeaks, of course, the same group the Obama administration says has served as an arm of Russia's intelligence organizations in the election, with embarrassing information released by the Democrats.
Now, on Capitol Hill, as you mentioned, John McCain attacked this. And he also said it devalues legitimate whistleblowers who use proper channels. And Tom Cotton, the senator, said, when I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Manning was undermining us by leaking these hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.
INSKEEP: You know, McCain also used the word dishonor and talked about taking an oath and then violating the oath. When you talk to military people, is this something beyond the substance of the secrets? They're just offended that someone dishonored their oath. They violated the oath here.
BOWMAN: Right, they are. And they basically say, if it's OK - well, not OK for someone to do it, but if you're kind of giving a - commuting someone's sentence for doing this, again, it's sending the message that it's not a big deal. You can do it. They take this very, very seriously.
INSKEEP: You also mentioned Julian Assange. Now, let's remember, he said on Twitter the other day, if President Obama were to - were to pardon or commute Manning's sentence, he would agree to be extradited to the United States.
BOWMAN: Right. Well, there's no immediate comment from Assange or his lawyer. Assange tweeted, without commenting on that offer, quote, "thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage and determination made the impossible possible."
INSKEEP: Let's remember Assange's situation. He is in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
INSKEEP: He is charged with a crime in Sweden. Or he's been accused; let's not say charged. I think it's not been a formal charge. He's accused, suspected of a crime in Sweden.
BOWMAN: That's right. We don't know if there's been any formal charge.
INSKEEP: And are there any formal charges known to be held against him in the United States at this time?
BOWMAN: Not that we know of, no public indictment. So yeah, we'll just have to wait and see. But again, he said, you know, if Manning's granted clemency, I will be willing to be extradited to the United States. So we'll just have to wait and see.
INSKEEP: If there are any charges for him to be extradited for to the United States.
INSKEEP: So let me ask about one other thing that happened here. There's another name on this list of pardons and commutations. The name is James Cartwright.
BOWMAN: That's right. And Cartwright was a retired Marine general. He used to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He pleaded guilty to misleading federal investigators who were looking into the release of classified information for another big story, the U.S. use of cyber weapons against Iran. And that story was, of course, published in The New York Times. He was supposed to be sentenced on Tuesday. And he was looking at a couple of years in prison. And now he's off the hook.
INSKEEP: How did he come to be talking with reporters about the Stuxnet virus, as I think it was called?
BOWMAN: Well, I think administration officials suggested he talk to some of these reporters. So - and then the problem was, clearly, when he was approached about it, he misled federal investigators. That was the charge. It wasn't releasing classified information.
INSKEEP: So he was doing his job. He was doing what he was told to do. But then he didn't tell the truth about doing what he was told to do.
BOWMAN: Exactly, that's right. And that's what caught him up.
INSKEEP: And so now he's pardoned. The sentence is commuted. What happens with him, exactly? He's off the hook completely.
BOWMAN: He's completely off the hook right now.
INSKEEP: And is his career over?
BOWMAN: Well, his military career, of course, was over. Now he's in a think tank in D.C.
INSKEEP: OK. All right, Tom, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, this morning.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.