Not too long ago we talked about the entry of convicted traitor Chelsea Manning in the Maryland Senate race this year. My sentiments about the idea of casting a vote for someone who was convicted on that many counts of betraying his nation (and was technically never even pardoned, only having had his sentence commuted) haven’t changed. But there was one other wrinkle in this story which hadn’t even crossed my mind and could make it an even worse idea for Manning. Due to a rather obscure and rarely enforced rule, technically it would be illegal for Manning to run and it could even land him back in prison.
The Daily Caller dug up some information on this subject and reminds us that there’s a rule barring active duty military personnel from engaging in any overt political activity. Running for office would certainly qualify.
Dru Brenner-Beck, retired Army judge advocate general and president of the National Institute of Military Justice, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that on the face of it, Manning is prohibited by Department of Defense regulations from running for office while serving in an active-duty capacity. The only exception is if Secretary of Defense James Mattis grants explicit permission, a power that cannot be delegated by a secretary to anyone else.
According to Brenner-Beck, the regulation in question is DOD Directive 1344.10 Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, dated Feb. 9, 2008, para. 4.2.2.
“That paragraph is punitive and violation of it subjects her to courts-martial for violation of a lawful order or regulation under Article 92,” Brenner-Beck told TheDCNF. “Her activities campaigning for herself and fundraising for herself may also violate other provisions of the DoD Directive, themselves separately punishable under the UCMJ, art. 92.”
Brenner-Beck added that prosecution in this case is a “discretionary decision by her chain of command.”
Some readers might be shaking their heads at this point and noting that Manning is described pretty much everywhere as a “former Army private.” But that’s not technically true. Manning remains an active duty soldier while his convictions are on appeal, though he is on excess leave and in “a non-pay status.” He still has a military ID card and remains eligible for many military benefits, including medical care.
Does that mean he’ll be prosecuted? Unknown but probably unlikely. Exceptions are made to this rule (or it’s simply ignored) on a regular basis. But we have to say “probably” here. Just because a rule is rarely enforced, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be. In order to be completely in the clear Manning would need to have an exemption granted by Mad Dog Mattis. How likely does that sound to you? And then, the decision to prosecute is, “discretionary by the chain of command.” I probably don’t need to remind you who is actually at the very top of that chain of command currently. Does going after Manning in another Court Marshal really sound like something completely beyond the universe of options Trump would consider?
Sure, the press would make such a move out as being vindictive and petty. And to be honest, it probably would be. I may not like the fact that Manning had his sentence commuted but the fact is that he did and the rules are the rules. Sending him up on this obscure charge doesn’t sound worth the bother, particularly when his chances of beating Ben Cardin are roughly the same as an egg surviving a fall off the Sears Tower. But this is 2018, folks. I’ve already learned not to try to guess what’s going to happen next.