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Saving Private Manning: Obama Grants Last-Minute Clemency

On Tuesday, president Obama, using his constitutional powers “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States,” commuted the sentence of former Army private Chelsea Manning.

Now, in case you missed it, that wasn’t Manning’s first name six-plus years ago. At that point, it was Bradley, and it was Bradley Manning who was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for, among other things, espionage and theft.

Given the nature of Manning’s offenses, any executive clemency was bound to be controversial, but it’s what happened after Manning’s conviction that raises doubts about why Manning was the recipient of presidential clemency.

It’s impossible to really know the president’s motives. But a quick examination of the facts reveals that there’s reason to believe that a culture-war agenda played a disturbing role in this story.

To start at the beginning, in early 2010, a series of diplomatic cables and war logs began to appear on the WikiLeaks website. In total, more than 600,000 classified documents had been leaked to the site. The source of the leak was Manning. His stated justification was "to show the true cost of war” to the public in the hopes that it “would come to the conclusion that the war wasn't worth it.”

In May, 2010, Manning was arrested and charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy, which carried a potential death sentence. Three years later, Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge but found guilty of 17 others, including “five counts of espionage and theft.”

At this point, it seems pretty straightforward. Manning’s actions jeopardized national security and placed people in harm’s way.

But, in this case “straightforward” is the last word anyone would use to describe Manning’s actions. At the sentencing phase, Manning’s lawyers “raised questions about whether Manning's confusion over her gender identity affected her behavior and decision making.” Note the use of the feminine pronoun by the lawyers. A military psychologist testified that “Manning had been left isolated in the Army, trying to deal with gender-identity issues in a ‘hyper-masculine environment.’”

Thus, Manning went from being a misguided-to-the-point-of-possibly-traitorous “whistleblower” to a transgendered martyr, a transformation underscored by the name change from Bradley to Chelsea, a change that media outlets adopted immediately.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether seven years for his actions is a sufficient punishment. At the time of his sentencing, the New York Times argued that “much of what Private Manning released was of public value.” And all of his supporters argued that 35 years was far too long a sentence.

The problem is the same arguments can be made about other people who are not the beneficiaries of presidential clemency. Like Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA’s surveillance program to the country. One could argue the “public value” of his actions far exceeded those of Manning’s.

Which is why it’s reasonable to suspect that Manning’s status as transgendered icon had something to with the president’s actions. As the New York Times put it, “The decision by President Obama rescued Ms. Manning from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at a male military prison.”

Now, as a Christian, I’m not opposed to clemency. And I’m willing to consider Manning’s documented history of mental illness and suicide attempts as mitigating factors.

But in the end, I find it hard to disagree with David French, writing in the National Review:

“Manning isn’t a woman in need of rescue. He’s a soldier who committed serious crimes. He … just dumped hundreds of thousands of classified documents into the public domain ….without the slightest regard for the lives of others. Manning is a traitor who pled guilty to a lesser offense to avoid the full penalty for his crimes… [President] Obama’s commutation of his sentence is a disgrace.”


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: January 19, 2017

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