WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.
The President also pardoned James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who pleaded guilty in October to a single charge of making false statements to federal investigators in 2012 when he was questioned about leaking top secret information on US efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to two journalists.
Manning, a transgender woman and former US Army soldier, was serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, an all-male Army prison in eastern Kansas, despite her request to transfer to a civilian prison. A White House statement on Tuesday said her prison sentence is set to expire on May 17.
The material, which WikiLeaks published in 2010, included a classified video of a US helicopter attacking civilians and journalists in Iraq in 2007. Labeled “Collateral Murder,” the film drew criticism from human rights activists for the deaths of innocent people.
When asked about WikiLeaks in the wake of the releases, President-elect Donald Trump told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade in 2010: “I think it’s disgraceful. I think there should be like death penalty or something.”
Though found guilty on 20 out of 22 possible charges (including violating the US Espionage Act), Manning was not convicted of the most serious one; aiding the enemy, which could have earned the private a life sentence.
Instead, the former intelligence analyst was sentenced to 35 years in prison, as well as demoted from private first class to private and dishonorably discharged.
Earlier this month, WikiLeaks said it would agree to a US extradition request for the site’s founder, Julian Assange, if Obama granted clemency to Manning. It was not immediately clear if WikiLeaks would make good on its promise.
Chase Strangio, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Manning, said he was “relieved and thankful” Obama commuted her sentence.
“Since she was first taken into custody, Chelsea has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and has been denied access to medically necessary health care,” Strangio said in a statement. “This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life, and we are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman, dedicated to making the world a better place and fighting for justice for so many.”
Amnesty International also cheered news of Manning’s commutation.
“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result, her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years,” Margaret Huang, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”
Two-year sentence sought for Cartwright
Cartwright’s career was marked by decades of distinguished military service. From August 2007 to August 2011, he served as the second-highest uniformed officer and, before that, he served as commander of US Strategic Command. During his tenure in these posts, he held the highest security clearance, and retained top security clearance upon his retirement from the military in 2011.
Federal prosecutors had sought a two-year prison sentence for Cartwright in court filings earlier this month, but his attorneys asked for probation, emphasizing his desire to persuade journalists to modify their reporting to protect national security interests.
“General Cartwright understands the magnitude of his offense and deeply regrets the decision that he made … He has accepted responsibility and acknowledged his guilt,” his attorneys wrote in court papers.
“(I)n General Cartwright’s communications with both journalists, he successfully persuaded them not to report information that would be harmful to the United States.”
One of those reporters, David Sanger of The New York Times, submitted a letter in support of Cartwright explaining that “throughout the interview, (Cartwright) consistently showed his concern that information damaging to US interests not be made public.”
The other reporter, Daniel Klaidman, who wrote for Newsweek, also submitted a letter on Cartwright’s behalf, as did several current and former members of Congress, along with military officials from the Bush and Obama administrations, all urging the judge for leniency in light of Cartwright’s decorated military career.
Cartwright, 67, served 40 years in the US Marine Corps and was widely regarded within the military for his technical acumen and work in the areas of nuclear proliferation, missile defense and cybersecurity.
He was scheduled for sentencing before DC District Court Judge Richard Leon on January 31.