Since the early days of President Barack Obama’s first term, the United States has pursued a high-octane policy of punishing whistleblowers to the fullest extent of the law. If an individual can be identified as having been the source of a leak, and if that individual falls under the jurisdiction of the US or its military, they can be prosecuted for crimes against the State and “national security.”
It is in this atmosphere that the American Civil Liberties Union announced that they were calling for a full, unconditional pardon for Edward Snowden, the former intelligence industry contractor who leaked classified information about the National Security Agency’s wiretapping and data collection activities to Glenn Greenwald, the UK Guardian and the Washington Post.
“Thanks to Edward Snowden’s act of conscience, we’ve made historic strides in our fight for surveillance reform and improved cybersecurity,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said last week. “That’s why today, ahead of this week’s release of the Oliver Stone movie ‘Snowden,’ we’re unveiling a major effort calling on President Obama to pardon the NSA whistleblower.”
Some weren’t happy with the ACLU’s new call to action, including the editorial board for the newspaper that helped to publish his leaks, the Washington Post, who claimed his leaks hurt national security overseas. Needless to say, the ACLU has created a lively debate around the issue.
Oddly missing from the discussion over Snowden’s pardon prospects, however, is any mention of Chelsea Manning’s situation.
Back in July, the 28-year-old whistleblower attempted to take her own life while serving her 35-year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth Correctional Barracks for violating the Espionage Act, the same early-20th-century law the United States wants to use against Snowden. In early September, she went on hunger strike in protest of her treatment; Manning said in a statement that she has not been receiving appropriate treatment for her gender dysphoria, including being allowed to grow her hair out, and that prison officials have been subjecting her to a campaign of bullying.
“Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison – or by anyone within the US government,” Manning said. “I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect – that I once actually believed would be provided for – afforded to any living human being.”
This, in fact, is why Manning should be let go – why all prisons should be emptied, as a matter of fact, but given the scope of the argument, specifically why she should be set free. As long as she is a prisoner, the dignity and respect she desires will continue to be held just out of her reach. The state has taken that from her, on purpose, as a message to other would-be whistleblowers.
Chelsea Manning was convicted of a crime against the state during an active conflict. In a sense, a strange, twisted sense, she could be considered a war criminal. But what she did helped bring closure to the families of slain Reuters photojournalists Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen – the two were killed by an American airstrike in Baghdad in 2007 – and helped US citizens and individuals around the world understand the extent of the US military’s reckless adventure in Afghanistan and Iraq more generally.
Her status as a “war criminal” is an utter joke, when compared characters like Henry Kissinger – Hillary Clinton’s bestie and the man behind such illustrious atrocities as the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields in Cambodia, Augusto Pinochet’s coup and authoritarian stranglehold over Chile, and just about the entire long, bloody conflict of the Vietnam War – who continue to walk free.
And yet, Manning is being forced to pay a debt she shouldn’t owe — years of her life, peace of mind, the ability to walk freely and associate with whom she pleases – because she had a shift in conscience while serving one of the largest forces of murder and oppression on the planet.
Manning ended her hunger strike on Sept. 13, after receiving notice that military doctors had approved her for sex reassignment surgery. Since then, and aside from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange tweeting that he’d turn himself in if President Obama granted Manning clemency, the media has been as close to silent as they can be about her.
If we are going to rally around Edward Snowden and start a campaign dedicated to getting him a presidential pardon, it is only right that the same be extended to Chelsea Manning. Free her today, unconditionally!