Facing a 35-year sentence for the largest dissemination of classified material in US history, Bradley Manning doesn’t have a lot of options on the table. Manning admitted to some of the charges before the court-martial in a bid to lighten his eventual sentence, and apologized to the court. Now his attorney says he will go to President Barack Obama to request a pardon to spring Manning from Leavenworth:
The fight to free Pfc. Bradley Manning takes a new turn as he returns to prison to serve a 35-year sentence for leaking classified information and his lawyer says he will ask the Army for leniency — and the White House for a pardon.
Even Manning’s supporters have pivoted. During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, they wore T-shirts reading, “truth,” as they had for the entire court-martial. Hours later, they had changed into shirts saying, “President Obama: Pardon Bradley Manning.”
“The time to end Brad’s suffering is now,” defense attorney David Coombs told a news conference after Manning’s sentence was handed down. “The time for our president to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now.” …
The sentencing fired up the long-running debate over whether Manning was a whistleblower or a traitor for giving more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents, plus battlefield footage, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. By volume alone, it was the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history, bigger even than the Pentagon Papers a generation ago.
The only two routes for Manning now are appeals and a pardon. The appeal option probably isn’t terribly realistic, for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned above, Manning admitted to a significant portion of the case, and his guilt in releasing the material has never been in doubt. Being found guilty on this basis is hardly a miscarriage of justice, at least in the trial-process sense. Given the scope of the crime, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces isn’t likely to proclaim Manning a whistleblower, despite what his lawyer and Wikileaks’ fans think. This isn’t a Pentagon Papers situation — Manning didn’t discriminate in his leaks, but instead exposed seemingly everything within his grasp.
Unfortunately for Manning, the pardon option is even less likely. First, there hasn’t been a President as parsimonious with pardons than Barack Obama. For instance, while Eric Holder has proclaimed prior prosecutions and sentencing in the war on drugs as unjust — an arguable position — Obama hasn’t done a thing to correct those implied specific injustices, at least not until now. With Obama in full pursuit of Edward Snowden, who has a better case to make as a whistleblower, he’s even more unlikely to cough up a pardon for someone who appears to have exposed American secrets out of spite.
Manning will be waiting in Leavenworth for a long time for that pardon. According to a new statement from Manning, he’d prefer to wait it out as Chelsea Manning and get sex-change therapy:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.
Unfortunately again, Leavenworth doesn’t have those facilities:
Coombs said he is “hoping” that Fort Leavenworth “would do the right thing” and provide hormone therapy for Manning. “If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so.”
The facility does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity issues but does provide psychiatric care, a Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman told Courthouse News earlier this week.
In the U.S. prison system, transgender prisoners who have not had genital surgery are generally assigned to live with their birth-sex peers, but the military policy is unclear.
It’s going to a long and unhappy wait for Manning on all of these fronts.