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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Clemency

 

As a final act of his presidency, President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning.

I don’t suppose you’d find it surprising, given my background and previous comments on this matter, that my inbox is overflowing today with messages asking what I think about Obama’s decision.

My opinion?


My opinion is complicated and I don’t pretend to be entirely impartial.


First, the elephant:  I don’t give a tinker’s damn about Manning’s gender. 

I strongly believe it is every human being’s inalienable right to define themselves. I believe this right applies to everybody, even criminals.  Manning’s personal identity is none of my business in any fashion. If Chelsea Manning says she identifies as female, then so far as I’m concerned, she’s female and I’ll address her as such.  This isn’t out of respect for her – because I have none – but out of respect for my own beliefs and the rights I fought for when I swore the same oath she betrayed.

A number of people have suggested to me Manning’s gender identity issues may have influenced her decision to betray her oath. 

So?

Well, see her identity issues might be seen as, if not an excuse, then an explanation.

And you know what, that’s bullshit – unless you are suggesting to me being trans makes you inherently unreliable.

There are uncounted numbers of service people who struggle with their identity in one fashion or another, with personal problems, with mental health issues, with personal pressures that sometimes stagger the imagination (as a former Chief and Officer, trust me, I dealt with personal issues from my troops most of you wouldn’t believe). The vast, vast, vast majority of those people don’t betray their oath and pass controlled material to a foreign agency.

I respect Manning’s self-declared identity, and I might even sympathize with the severe distress that identity may have caused her in a military environment, but that’s as far as it goes. Right there.

Allowing Manning to use her identity as an excuse is a slap in the face of every LGBT person who served with honor and distinction – particularly those who served before they could do so openly.

So, that said, if you wish to comment on this post I’ll expect you to show that same respect. If you address Manning by name, then use the name and gender pronouns she identifies with. Comments that attempt to make an issue, an insult, or an excuse of Manning’s gender will not post. This is non-negotiable.

Manning’s gender identity is irrelevant to her crime. 

So, let’s put it aside.

 

And, yes, crime.

 

Manning is a convicted criminal. 

Manning is a convicted criminal and her guilt is not in question. She admitted it herself. The evidence is indisputable.

Manning is a criminal under both civilian and military law.

She was charged with twenty-two offenses.

She pled guilty to ten of those charges. 

She faced court martial and was convicted under military law of eleven out of the twelve remaining charges.

She was acquitted of the most serious charge: aiding and abetting the enemy in time of war – a charge that could have resulted in a death sentence.

She was sentenced to thirty-five years in military prison.

None of that is in dispute. Her guilt is not in question.

Should she have been charged in the first place?

Many of the messages in my inbox are from people who don’t think so. Few of those people served in the military. Fewer still served in military intelligence. And fewer still served in military intelligence in time of war.

If they had, they might have a different perspective.

Should she have been charged in the first place. You goddamned right she should have.

I wrote the following back in 2010, when the story first broke and while Manning was still being held in an Army stockade in Baghdad (Note, there was no discussion of Manning’s gender back then, thus she is referred to by the male pronoun and her birth name in the text):


[Over] the last month a number of folks have asked my opinion regarding the US Soldier who passed classified information to the WikiLeaks site.

Including this now infamous video clip.

The general consensus seems to be that I might regard this soldier as a hero – and a number of folks pointed me at this idiotic site.

Seriously, what the hell is the matter with you people?

Hero?

Wrong.

Utterly wrong.

This guy is a turd who doesn’t know the first thing about either patriotism or keeping his word.

If you think that I would regard Army Specialist Bradley Manning as anything other than an traitorous asshole who betrayed his oath, his service, and his country and who jeopardized the lives of his fellow Soldiers, then you really don’t know anything about me at all.

There’s a huge difference between a whistleblower and a disgruntled turncoat.

Manning is the latter.

He’s a coward, a criminal, a shitbag loser who was demoted for striking a fellow soldier, and from where I sit, a dishonorable traitor who deserves to be in prison for a good long time – right next Robert Hanson and John Walker and the fact that Manning gave his information to WikiLeaks instead of the Russians is irrelevant.

For those of you not familiar with the story of Spec Manning here’s the thumbnail version: Manning was a 22 year-old US Army specialist serving in Iraq who passed classified gun camera video to the WikiLeaks website. He then tried to pass 260,000 classified documents to a former hacker at WikiLeaks while bragging about his exploits. That hacker, Adrian Lamo, turned Manning into federal authorities. Manning is currently sitting in military detention in Baghdad.

Couple of things:

First, it’s a damned sad day indeed when a lowlife convicted hacker like Lamo has more honor and integrity and sense of duty than a US Army soldier trusted with a security clearance and the defense of secure information and the nation.

Second, the media widely reported Manning as an “Intelligence Analyst,” but the truth of the matter is that as a Specialist he was a low-ranking gofer, who obviously had way too much time on his hands and not nearly enough supervision. This guy was an “analyst” in only the broadest, most entry level, sense of the word.

I spent over twenty years in military intelligence with one of the highest security clearances in the military and I recognize Manning right away, he’s an E-4 headquarters discipline problem who spent most of his time in the war zone skylarking in a cushy non-combat assignment and sifting through classified networks instead of doing his fucking job. While his fellow Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Guardsmen were out risking their asses every single day, Manning was sitting fat, dumb, and happy, safe in a secure compound surfing military networks and spying on his own people looking for juicy gossip, instead of performing the work that he was supposed to be doing and that would help protect the lives of his fellows. All of us in the military know shitbags like this, the slackers who sit around drinking sodas and slurping cup-O-noodles all day while everybody else not only does their own job but his too. The fucker is probably the same guy who always takes the last cup of coffee and doesn’t make more.

Third, about that video – those pilots didn’t do anything wrong. That’s right. They. Did. Not. Do. Anything. Wrong. Unless you’ve been there, you do not have context to hang this event on and you do not have the experience to understand what you’re looking at. Period. If you think otherwise, you’re wrong.

I’ve avoided discussing this despite a number of requests – because you’re not going to like what I have to say – but I’ll do it now anyhow.

The video is disturbing, it shows the true horror of war, of conflict, and killing – and that horror is not the death of innocents, it is what happens to those who do the killing and who are submerged in blood and death and destruction for months and years at a time.

You should be horrified by that video – just like you should be horrified by videos of those flag-draped steel boxes coming home to Dover Air Force Base (and that is, of course, why the previous administration tried to hide them, don’t want the population revolted and shamed by dead soldiers, no sirree). That’s war, and it’s pretty fucking horrifying. There is not one damned thing glorious about it. No matter how you slice it, what it ultimately comes down to is that you’re killing people and they are killing you. Your government is killing people. Whether or not it is justified is a matter for history and irrelevant to those who actually wage it. On the ground you’re killing people. Killing. Them. By fire and flame and blast, by gun and bombardment and by missile. Sometimes it’s quick and painless – and sometimes it’s slow and lingering and terrible. Sometimes it’s a quick shot to the head and all neat and tidy – and sometimes it leaves human beings splattered like burned chunky spaghetti sauce across the landscape. Sometimes you kill the people you intend to, those sons of bitches on the other side who are trying to kill you – and sometimes you kill children and old people and reporters and friendlies and some poor hapless bastard whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the minigun cuts loose. That’s war, it’s brutal and it’s ugly and it’s inhuman and it is immoral (yes, immoral, war is inherently immoral no matter which side you are on. I’m not saying that war isn’t oft times justified or that the actions of individual soldiers aren’t moral and righteous, but war itself is a dirty immoral business and make no mistake about it). That is the vicious nature of war, perhaps if Americans actually understood that they’d be less eager to have one every ten years or so. And we’ve been at this one now longer than any other in our history (with the exception of the so-called “Indian Wars”) and it is taking a measurable toll.

Americans want to believe that war is somehow glorious and moral and a grand adventure. That might makes right and that real American soldiers sleep the sleep of the righteous and the just untroubled by bad dreams. That patriotism is slapping a $2 magnet on the back of their cars while waving a flag and calling those who don’t believe as they do un-American. They live in some make believe fantasy land where it’s possible to bomb a country into democracy while making a profit and the enemy is easy to identify because he looks just like a Jap or a Nazi or a Slope or ragheaded terrorist. Americans want to believe that the enemy doesn’t love his country as much as they love theirs. Americans want to believe that war is just like TV or a video game, all clean and safe and without consequence. Americans want to believe that God stands with us and that he has forsaken the enemy. Americans want to believe that war isn’t horrifying and inhuman and immoral.

Americans want to believe that Johnny can march off to war and come home unaffected.

Reality is somewhat different – and after WWII and Korea and Vietnam and the Gulf War and Bosnia and Beirut and Somalia and now more than ten years of this goddamned endless conflict you’d think Americans would understand that fact.

But they don’t.

So, let me clue you in. If you are to survive the battlefield with your mind intact, then you’d damned well better have mental defenses that are as bullet resistant as your ballistic vest. Some folks can’t deal with it, can’t deal with the stress and horror and inhumanity of it all. They just can’t. The DoD and VA mental health clinics are full to bursting with these broken veterans – and truthfully, they may be the most human of us all. All are affected in some way. And those who engage in the business of war develop coping mechanisms or they simply won’t survive on the battlefield. And those coping mechanisms are well understand by those who train us – and those who have to fix us after we’re broken. Killing human beings in our society is immoral, and since we generally don’t recruit sociopaths into the military, we have to find a way to overcome that prohibition in the people we send off to war. The oldest and best method is to vilify the enemy, to make him less than human. Japs, Krauts, Gooks, Slopes, Towelheads, whatever, soldiers have done this since the time of the Roman Legions. It’s a natural human primary response to the situation and it works. So does gallows humor. The business we are engaged in is ghastly and horrible, we know that, but it is our sworn duty, it is the nature of our profession. And so we deal with it the way humans in similar circumstance deal with blood and gore and horror and stress – they make jokes, just as cops do, just as paramedics do, just as firemen and doctors and pilots do (I’ve known more than a few air traffic controllers in my life, all have lost aircraft under their control. When that happens, they crack wise and keep doing their jobs – because the alternative is to come unglued at the thought of an airliner you were responsible for full of people splashed all over some cornfield, and if that happens, if they freeze or become hysterical or lose focus, thousands more could die. So they crack wise and make graveyard jokes and they carry on as long as they have to. Ever wonder why the ATC profession has such a high rate of alcoholism and suicide? The only profession with a higher suicide rate is … us. The military).

Those Apache pilots were doing what they were supposed to be doing. They were directed onto target. They were literally miles away, watching those men on the ground through powerful night-vision cameras. They had seconds to analyze what they were seeing. It’s not like the movies. It’s not like a video game. It’s sweltering and the bird is shaking and vibrating and howling. It’s nerve wracking and the levels of stress and paranoia and adrenalin are so far beyond anything a normal human being ever deals with that it can’t be described – and it’s a damned sight more harrowing than anything some cowardly skylarking E-4 REMF back there in an air conditioned trailer ever had to deal with. Now, those pilots had to kill people, in a way far more personal than the average Soldier or pilot, and they had to do it over and over again, for months, years. That was the nature of their job. Could you do that? Unlikely. Just as the average person couldn’t do what a paramedic does, or a surgeon, or an executioner. It’s not the physical aspect, it’s the mental. They deal with it by joking, by gallows humor. Those pilots had no reason to believe other than what they did at the time, that they were looking at a legitimate military target, and they did what they were supposed to do. They eliminated the threat. They pulled the trigger on human beings in a very personal way – and they joked about it while they were doing so because that’s how you deal with it.

And that’s what so many people found offensive. That’s what Manning found so offensive.

They were wrong, of course, those pilots – not for joking while killing people, but for killing the wrong people. It’s easy for the armchair generals to condemn them for it, but if you think you would have made a better judgment call in that situation, well, then by all means sign up. Put your abilities, honed by hours of Gears of War, to use. The Army is always looking for good people with the magic ability to see through the fog of war and separate friend from foe. Go on, put your money were your mouth is.

I know, no matter what I say, you’ll still think me wrong.

You think the real question is this: with all our vaunted technology why couldn’t we tell that those men on the ground were TV reporters and children and non-combatants? Why?

Well because as I’ve alluded to in the previous paragraph, war is not at all like a video game or a movie or a book written by somebody who has never been there. And because computers aren’t very good at determining the intentions of human beings in a grainy green-lit shaking night-vision video feeds taken from miles away.

That’s the job of Intelligence.

That’s the job of Intelligence analysts.

See, while those Apache pilots, and countless thousands of other forces, were out there on the line – intelligence analysts were sitting in an air conditioned trailer in a secure compound in Bagdad. Their job was to analyze video and images and data and patterns and messages and the countless other bits and pieces and fragments of information in order to give the trigger pullers a better picture of the battle space. It was their job to determine intent.

In this case, the events in the video happened two years before Manning showed up in the war zone, but somebody just like him was supposed to be looking at the data and providing information to the warfighters.

Now, it’s true that you never have enough information, and you never have a clear picture, and you can never truly know the enemy’s intention. And that too is the nature of war. You simply do the best you can in a dynamic and ever changing environment. And even if you do everything right as an analyst, everything you know may be rendered outdated in seconds by changes in the battlespace. Intelligence work never ends. In the war zone there is never an idle moment. You learn from your mistakes and failures – and you will make mistakes and you will have failures and that too is the nature of war. But what you don’t do is sit around, fucking off and surfing through the networks looking for ways to screw your superiors when what you’re supposed to be doing is supporting the guys out there on the line. What Manning should have been doing was his job, analyzing data, doing his part to help build a coherent picture of the threat in order to reduce the likelihood of killing the wrong people.

He should have been doing his part to support his brothers in arms.

Instead he betrayed his oath, his duty, and his country, those soldiers out on the line, and those self same innocent Iraqis he claimed to be so concerned about. Manning’s actions directly put his fellow soldiers in harm’s way and may have put Iraqi lives at risk as well. If Manning was so concerned for the lives of those innocent Iraqis, then he damned well should have done his job.

(Note: I speak from personal experience here.  Somewhere in the back of a closet, in a box of paper records I keep from my military service, is a Navy Commendation Medal that I was awarded for, in part, saving the lives of 43 Iraqis. That situation isn’t one I’m going to discuss in detail, but the short version is a target had been incorrectly identified in the fog of war. I was the intelligence officer who had personally led a team to inspect that target the day before and knew from direct observation the strike package had been ordered in error. I could have kept my mouth shut. That would have been the easy thing to do. Admirals don’t like changing strike packages – especially ones that are queued for launch on the carrier’s flight deck – or being told they are wrong. I could have looked the other way. I could have ignored it. They were just towelheads, right? Enemy non-combatants, but enemies nonetheless. It was two days into the war and we were killing them by the tens of thousands. I mean, what was another 40 or so, right? But they don’t pay Chief Warrant Officers to keep their mouth shut or to do the easy thing. So, instead, I did my duty and pissed off my chain of command in the process. And 43 innocent Iraqis lived. Later, instead of a court martial, I got a commendation. So don’t tell me about Manning’s concern for Iraqi civilians because I don’t want to hear it).

Now, if Manning truly felt that he had evidence of a war crime – then there are very specific methods to bring that to the attention of the chain of command, all the way up to the Commander In Chief. He could have forwarded that information to his superiors. If he was unsatisfied with their response he could have reported it to the Inspector General’s Office – and he could have done so anonymously if he was afraid of repercussions. Every single one of us in uniform knows how to contact the IG – and if you could find Adrian Lamo’s email address, you damned well could find the number for the IG which is posted on the bulletin board in every space in the military. Failing that, he could have contacted his Representative or Senator – and again, if you can find a hacker’s email address or a two year old classified video buried in SIPRNET, you sure as hell shouldn’t have any trouble finding your congressman’s webpage.

No, Manning, with malice aforethought, deliberately betrayed his country. He stole classified information that he was neither authorized to access or equipped to understand and passed it to unauthorized persons. Nothing whatsoever justifies his actions. Period. But, then he bragged about it to Adrian Lamo and offered to pass on 260,000 additional classified documents. Two hundred and sixty thousand. He didn’t do this out of some outraged sense of morality, he was doing it for the same reason every other traitor does it – because he thought he was smarter than his chain of command, because he thought himself above his brothers in arms, because he appointed himself moral guardian of America, and because he wanted to improve his situation at the expense of duty and honor. What Manning did was a violation of not only his oath of enlistment, but the oath he swore to protect classified information when he was granted a security clearance. This man’s word is shit. He is a disgrace to the uniform he wears and an insult to all of us who have ever served with honor and distinction and who hold our oath dear.

Specialist Bradley Manning is a cowardly dishonorable scumbag and his actions may have led directly to the deaths of Allied men and women and have directly affected national security both in the war zone and at home.

More than that, because he was busy betraying his country instead of doing the job he was trained and paid and sworn to do, other pilots may find themselves living with the fact that they killed innocent men and women and children because they didn’t have the information they needed to make different choices in the battlespace.

This man is no hero.

And to call him one is to spit in the face of every man and women who has ever served and sacrificed for this country.

This man deserves nothing less than life in prison.


Looking back seven years on that essay and I wouldn’t change a word – well, other than the gender pronouns.

If I wrote that today, I might be a bit more judicious in my use of the word “traitor,” but I’m pretty confident that I’d end up in the same place.

Manning is a criminal. By her own admission. By military law. She betrayed her duty, her service, and her oath. She did it deliberately and with malice aforethought.

Nothing she disclosed was evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the military or the government – yes, I know you’re reaching for your keyboard right now in fury. But before you type the words “war crime” go back and review all of the material Manning stole and gave to Wikileaks.  Show me the war crime. Show me what was worth seven years in prison. Show me what was so terrible that it couldn’t be brought to the attention of US authorities without betraying your oath.

Show me what was so terrible that not only it couldn’t be brought to the attention of the proper authorities but instead should be given to an international criminal who deals in stolen property for his own profit and to further his own political agenda.

Go on. Read all of the material – don’t forget there are 260,000 diplomatic messages to go through and 500,000 pages of other material. Show me the crime. I’ll wait.

 

So, where does that leave us?

 

I waited to answer my email until after President Obama’s final press conference.

I figured he’d talk about his reasoning, and he did.

And there were no surprises.

First, the president commuted Manning’s sentence. Manning wasn’t pardoned.

That’s an important distinction.

I can perhaps live with a commutation.

But I would be adamantly opposed to a pardon.

Manning doesn’t deserve a pardon in any fashion.  She betrayed her country. She betrayed her oath. That is not in question. And Obama didn’t say otherwise and made no excuses for her. Nor did he in any way criticize the military or the military legal process that convicted Manning of her crimes.

But…

But, as much as it galls me – and it does gall me – President Obama was right. Manning’s sentence was out of proportion with other similar cases.

Thirty-five years in Maximum Security was far beyond what others who acted similar to Manning got. Manning wasn’t a spy like John Walker or Robert Hanssen. She was an idiot. She betrayed her country because she was stupid and selfish. She wanted us to think she did it for some higher cause but the truth is she just thought she knew better than all the rest of us. She was a lousy soldier and she shouldn’t have been there in the first place and maybe some of that is on the Army, or maybe not. But in the end perhaps 35 years was too long.

Thirty-five years is too long when a General who gave classified material to his mistress got nothing but a slap on the wrist and is hailed as a hero. And yes, thirty-five years is too long when the Secretary of State can run a private email server in her house with classified information on it. Granted, neither Petraeus nor Clinton’s actions were anywhere near what Manning did, but it’s damned hard to hold the troops to account when their commanders set such examples. 

I want you to understand something here: I have no sympathy for Chelsea Elizabeth Manning and I’ll be honest, if she was right now looking at another 28 years in Leavenworth, I would shed not a single tear.

 

But I’m not particular put out by clemency either.

 

I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m not the president either, perhaps if I was looking at it from his viewpoint I would see it differently.

Emotionally, Manning could have rotted in prison for all I care.

Dispassionately, I understand clemency and respect the president’s decision.

Perhaps my perspective is not yours.

Perhaps my experience is not yours.

Tens of thousands of us went into that lousy war, me included.

We, all of us including Manning, went of our own volition. 

Four thousand, five hundred and fourteen of us died in Iraq.

Two thousand, three hundred and ninety-two of us died in Afghanistan.

Those men and women, they don’t get a choice about living with the consequences of their decisions.

Those of us who lived, who held fast to our oath, we have to live with our choices. Every single day.

Manning should have to live with hers.

She betrayed her country. She betrayed her oath. She betrayed us. She did it on purpose.

Whether it be in prison or out, Manning should have to wear that betrayal around her neck for the rest of her goddamned life. Commutation of her sentence won’t change that.

In the end, we all have to live with what we’ve done.

President Obama included.

Perhaps that’s why he made the decision he did.

I guess, I’ll just have to live with that.  

 

 

 

 

 

197 comments:

  1. And this is also why I am very glad not to be President.
    Difficult decision and you summed it up well, Jim. Thank you.

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    1. 1. Secretary of State, not Secretary of Defense.
      2. I agree with you but will point out that she tried to give the material so that only material not harmful to important assets of the United States weren't harm. It is the media that ignored that rule and got rewarded for it. More ignorant naiveté on her part. Seven years is appropriate.

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    2. Not certain to whom you are replying but pretty sure it's not me.

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    3. Thanks for another great post. Your posts are about the only thing that gives me much hope for our country. I'm so glad I found your facebook page and your blog.

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  2. Can't argue with your logic then or now. Commutation is reasonable, given by one of the most reasonable men to sit in the oval office.

    I also won't muddy the stream by pointing out the crimes of others (looking at you Petraeus and Scooter) because their crimes in no way impact Manning's. She fucked up. She paid. She's on her way out. Live with it the way Lt. Calley has.

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  3. Thanks for your typically well thought out and well expressed views. I've been conflicted about this, and you've helped me think about it. I agree with you.

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    1. I am the same on this; thank you, Sir, for putting this into a common sense perspective and I find I, too, agree with you.

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    2. Thank you for this insight. As always, very thoughtful.

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    3. Cosign. I trust the well-argued opinion and input from one who's been there rather than, as Wright puts it, the "armchair commanders" who think they can speak authoritatively on the subject, but in reality can't possibly begin to understand the whole of it.

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  4. Yes. Exactly. Instead of continuing to try to express my views, using my own words, on the matter, I will just refer people to this article. Thank you.

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    1. Agree with Jim also. As the wife of a 3 war retiree who was also a specialist in all the ways you can kill people, your comments are right on. War us never pretty, never nice, sometimes justified for the cost our military members pay. She broke the most fundamental law of the military, you never turn against your unit, never aid the enemy.

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    2. Agreed here also. And thank you, Jim, for sharing your thoughts - honest and forthright as always. I think Manning ought to be greeted by stony silence and turned backs for the rest of her days. Unless of course she ends up being Snowden's roommate at the Putin-buddies Hotel.

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  5. Good essay. I've very mixed feelings about this, but I agree that Manning's gender identity shouldn't play a role in this, any more than Jonathan Pollard's religious identity should play a role in whether he gets permission to move to Israel before the current (five years from his parole) ruling allows him to. But I do think that's the "issue" that many see here.

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  6. On the brighter side, she will not longer be costing the government all that money in segregation, hormone therapy, and a possible sex change operation...but, I agree with you. Traitor was the word I used then for her, and now. SSG C (USA-Retired)

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  7. She is a criminal and she was justly convicted. But, the President was correct in commuting her sentence, for the reasons he stated. Especially when certain generals are not punished for doing worse.

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  8. Thank you for providing some much needed perspective and clarity. Sharing.

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  9. Thankyou for you perspective, fully wrought. I value it.

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  10. Thank you, Jim. That is the perfect response and a measured reaction.

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  11. Jim, You stated it well, and how I expected it from you in light of your previous post on this matter. You show integrity, humility, and thoughtfulness.

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  12. I thought it was a good job of splitting hairs - the (perhaps excessively) long sentence is commuted, while Manning still has the conviction on her record. She is now forever a second-class citizen, with no right to vote* or to own firearms*. Finding a job other than in the janitorial field is likely to be difficult with a felony conviction and Dishonorable Discharge on her record. Maybe she can go hang out in the Ecuadorian embassy with Julian Assange when she gets out.

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    1. Your point? The purpose of our justice system is to punish and by some accounts rehabilitate, although that is out of fashion these days. Yes, she will be a felon. She committed a very serious crime against not only the Army, but against this country and her fellow citizens. She knew what she was doing. Now, perhaps unfortunately, she has to carry that scarlet letter around her neck. I find it odd that you opine her loss of her right to own a firearm, right up there with her losing her right to vote. As if felons should be allowed to own guns. I'm sorry, she was a soldier, she thought she knew better than her command and better than this country's leaders. It would seem she did not. Now, she faces a life made infinitely more complicated by her own actions, taken by herself. She wasn't influenced, there was no collusion and there was a alternative, two of them actually as I see it. However, she chose this path. That's life. You bugger it up, that's the hand you're left playing for the rest of your days. I don't feel felons who commit these kinds of crimes should be afforded special rights that you and I do not receive. Low level drug possession, sure let's back off on the handing out of felony convictions. Turning over information that is not yours to turn over in direct violation of an oath you swore, above and beyond your station as a citizen, that is worthy of a felony and all that felony conviction entails.

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    2. I'm not sure where you got "special rights that you and I do not receive" out of what I posted.

      As regards the comment about firearms, I just threw that in because those are two things that people tend to get bent over losing their rights to. (There was a footnote, hence the asterisks, but apparently it didn't get posted. The footnote was "depending on what state she chooses to live in", as some states have laws restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, and other states do the same with the RKBA.)

      Generally speaking, your reply makes it seem as though you did not understand my comment. That may be through my lack of clarity, or not.

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    3. I didn't read your post as opining on anything. You simply stated a fact. She will not be able to vote or own firearms. Given her past judgment I think that's a good thing.
      She may be able to get a job guarding schools against bears with a pocket knife. Hell, if she finds God and I'm sure she has as most do, at least temporarily in prison, Betsy D. might be looking to recruit her.

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    4. The proper balance point between the good of the individual versus the good of society is a long-running and important discussion, particularly when an agent of the government is involved and an oath of service is broken.

      I understand that Manning had what seemed to her to be valid reasons for speaking out, but am appalled at the type and amount of data that was disclosed in such an irresponsible way.

      I agree that in context of similar crimes the sentence was particularly harsh.

      Where the balance point lies between justice toward an individual versus justice toward society, is happily not my job to decide. Fortunately, we (used to have) a thoughtful, intelligent, knowledgeable, evenhanded person in charge of deciding such things, and I can accept and for the most part agree with President Obama's decision.

      As for the Incoming One, all I can say is that he does not appear to have any of those mental qualities so essential in a modern President and I pity anyone depending on justice being dispensed from his hands. Maybe he's evenhanded, maybe his hands are even, I don't know.

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  13. If I may, You are 100% correct and dead on. My only comment that would add is simply that if the government actually provided more transparency on the horrific cost war (ie: civilian casualties, or victims of friendly Fire, or showing the caskets of forces members coming out of planes). Instead of considering it classified. Maybe, just maybe the American public would be less gung ho of sending men and woman into combats so easily. Just maybe....

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    1. Funny - that's exactly what used to happen - especially during the Vietnam war - Public got fed up of seeing our boys and girls coming home in body bags. That's why you never see it on the news anymore. War is now video games, "clean and surgical" - just like they want you to believe.

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    2. Not only that - I recall from a '75 news patch an "embedded journalist" quacking at a soldier emptying his automatic rifle (I'm sure Jim could have recognized it) on "how he felt it was going".

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  14. oops, forgot the footnotes...

    *dependent on which state she chooses to make her home once released.

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  15. I appreciate your insight into a situation I did not understand. Thank you.

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  16. This. This right here!
    Thank you for being a solid voice in the crowd even when you need to say something that people find uncomfortable.

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  17. well said and well reasoned. thank you.

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  18. State, not Defense.

    Well Said

    Danny

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  19. Your last paragraph has Clinton defined as Secretary of Defense. That Should be Secretary of State.

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  20. Jim,I read your essays expecting to know more when I am finished than when I started. You never fail to inform. I thank you for that. We are going to need a thousand thousand of writers like you for the foreseeable future.

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  21. I completely agree. It's too bad Manning is a "T" genderly speaking. That just confuses the issue. It makes it impossible for some people to look at the issue objectively who might have otherwise.

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  22. I have been waiting for this. Thank you. I've heard so much, read so much about this, but as always, your words help me make sense of it all. You also touched upon something I kept thinking about all along, why didn''t she turn the information over to her superiors, to people in the military? It's not like she tried that way and couldn't make any headway. She never tried to go through proper channels. That always troubled me.

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  23. I am not a big fan of comparative punishment. Meaning, it doesn't matter who else did what and got what kind of punishment. Each case should stand on its own merits or lack thereof. I would, however, be very interested to hear your reasoning, Jim, as to why she received such a long sentence for a crime that typically (albeit the crime is rare) draws a 7-10 at the most. Could it be the courts martial saw her in the same light as you?

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    1. She's a traitor. Some of us believe she should have been put before a firing squad or hung. A traitor is a traitor in my book.

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  24. I agree with you 100%. I have always supported Obama on nearly all of his decisions. I'm not thrilled with him on this one, but I can see his point, I guess. Manning is a traitor and nothing will change that ever. She will have to live with it for the rest of her life regardless if she ever accepts responsibility for her actions. The rest of us will remember and that will follow her the rest of her life.

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  25. Nice summing up of a complex situation. Well said.

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  26. Thank you so much.

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  27. Nicely put, the only quibble I have would be calling out Clinton as the Sec Def. instead of Sec State.

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  28. Susan Sullivan Jim, I am curious. Do you regard Snowden as more, or less culpable than Manning, or a different case altogether? Frankly, I regard him as a huge asshole and coward, and Manning, though extremely wrong, is deserving of sympathy by our wise and compassionate President.

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    1. Me too, but we seem to be in a minority on snowden.

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  29. I agree with you 100% - When I was an Army specialist, I had access to classified information. I never once thought of betraying my country, my service, and my comrades. Manning did, she is a traitor. Period, end of story. Like you I can live with clemency - a Pardon, no way.

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  30. I've been mulling this over ever since I heard the announcement. I do have a military intelligence background and I've been feeling pretty conflicted over the commuting of Chelsea Manning's sentence. Ended up landing in pretty much the same spot you did; however, the army's treatment of Manning during her incarceration (such as reportedly putting her in solitary confinement after a suicide attempt) is something I am mulling over, too.

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    1. If she hadn't been in a prison for men, the fact that she was imprisoned would have been less of a problem. But she was, which adds, imo, additional, unacceptable, aspects to her imprisonment. Especially as their solution for keeping her safe mostly seemed to be isolating her, rather than finding an appropriate prison.

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  31. I always learn something from you, Jim. This time was no exception. Thanks for your perspective as well as your service.

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  32. Good commentary. I'm sure Manning will be wearing the albatross of her betrayal forever, in Leavenworth or out. But 35 years was Just Too Goddam Long; someone decided to make an Example of him/her.

    Thanks, Jim.

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  33. Thank you, thank you, because these were EXACTLY my thoughts on the topic, and I was afraid I was being an a-hole for thinking them. So glad that someone whose opinion I value as much as yours is thinking this. You help me keep my sanity.

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  34. Well said. I appreciate that you posted your essay from 7 years ago, it shows a consistency in your values and thoughts on the subject at hand and let's those of us who follow your posts to see that you're more than just a pretty face with a keyboard. Well done my friend, thank you for your perspective. As usual, it is clear headed, and concise.

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  35. Thank you. Very articulately phrased by someone with the experience to have an informed opinion. I don't always agree with you (in this instance I do) but I always appreciate the way you express your opinions.

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  36. Thank you. Coming from a family of military veterans and as a student of history, I appreciate your assessment. I wouldn't have wanted to make that decision, but it is one I can accept.

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  37. How I wish your words could be required reading for every US Citizen... although with the state of education these days, I'm pretty sure reading comprehension and critical thinking skills are lacking in a large part of the population.

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  38. As a retired CWO (COMM) (USCG), I can say that I have been expressing pretty much what you wrote for these past years.

    Just a few other points:

    Compare Chelsea Manning to Daniel Ellsberg (who is a hero of mine) ...

    Dr. Ellsberg's actions were well thought out, reasoned, calculated actions of civil disobedience. He had been in the government for many years, and was authorized access to the Pentagon Papers. Papers, mind you, which he helped write. Two weeks after leaking the papers, he publicly surrendered to the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts, saying:

    "I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision."

    Manning made no such reasoned decision. In a stunning breach of her oath, she accessed classified documents which she had no right to access. Then, she just gathered whatever she could, and dumped it to that paragon of virtue Julian Assange. She ended up compromising over 250,000 United States diplomatic cables, and around 500,000 Army reports about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is ludicrous to believe that Private Manning read every one of those reports to familiarize herself with what they were about, and whether they indicated any type of cover-up or wrong-doing, or whether the indiscriminate release of classified information might put American lives at risk.

    Manning then tried to slink away, intending to be discharged and go about her life. Instead of coming forward, or trying to find a way to come forward, she skated through the rest of her enlistment, only finally being arrested a few days before her discharge.

    Compare the statement of Dr. Ellsberg to the following from the chat logs between Manning and Adrian Lamo (the hacker/blogger who ultimately turned her in). Manning wrote:

    " if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?"

    Lazy, traitorous bastard.

    Yes, I know that Dr. Ellsberg has actually come out in support of Chelsea Manning. As with President Obama, there a few things I disagree with him on. Ellsberg's support of Manning is one them.

    As far as the commutation ... I am ambivalent, as well. By commuting her sentence, the President may have only cut a year or two off of her time in prison, since she would have been eligible for a parole hearing in a year or two - which she may have been granted anyway. The only difference with the clemency is that I believe she won't have to report to a parole officer.

    In the meantime, her original conviction stands.

    One more comparison, if you'll indulge me.

    Manning grew up (with the exception of her hiatus to Wales) in a town in Oklahoma associated with a REAL hero - Karen Silkwood. Chelsea Manning is not worthy of the radioactive dust that Karen Silkwood walked on when it comes to reluctant, but heroic actions.

    And, speaking of traitors - I would have been fine if Chelsea Manning had been left to rot and die in prison like John Walker.

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    1. I hadn't heard about Karen Silkwood before. Just read her wikipage. Thanks.

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    2. There is also a movie, "Silkwood" based on her life, starring the amazing (and not at all overrated) Meryl Streep.

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  39. Slight correction: Clinton was the Secretary of State, not Defense.

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  40. Great article

    You changed my opinion
    Thanks

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  41. Maybe one of your best pieces, Jim. I've had several good friends that consider me more or less a liberal beacon ask if I'd been hacked, because my view on Manning closely mirrors yours.

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    1. What is liberal bacon?? Does it go on a conservative sandwich? (Sorry, but I thought a bit of levity could be useful, as Jim suggested.) Nice work Jim. Thanks for the clarity!!

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  42. Absolutely the best, most accurate article I've ever read. All combat veterans are wounded, either mentally or or physically. (3 tours in Nam). The way you explained everything should leave no doubt in anybody's mind about Ms. Manning's actions. Thank you.

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  43. Thank you for this well-reasoned and articulate essay. I greatly appreciate your willingness to share your insider take and educate your readers.

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  44. I was relieved it was commutation and not a pardon. I thought the sentence excessive compared to others who had been silenced for similar crimes.

    Your article, as usual, is spot on.

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  45. Thanks for putting it into perspective. I'll be sharing this and, no doubt, be pissing off a few of my friends. That's just fine.

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  46. Thank you for continuing to post these essays. I may question your viewpoint, but I'm eager to hear it; it informs my own. Most of my news sources at the time were sympathetic to her, but since they never reported the military's side, I never felt I had enough information to consider a decision, especially with the popular press making it sound as if he was the victim of a witch hunt.

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  47. Thanks for the perspective. I have been feeling conflicted too. In today's atmosphere, everything needs to be good or bad, but her getting out of jail seemed both right and wrong. I am glad it wasn't my decision and will respect that the president had more information then me.
    Life is more complicated than a 140 character Tweet. I wish more people saw that.

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  48. Your analysis rings the truest that I've read over the years on this subject, so I give it more weight.

    She is guilty by her own admission. She did break her oath.

    Seven years seems a bit short, though the way she's been treated, which really is wrong, it must have felt like much longer. Thirty-five years probably was too long. The real question now is will Assange make good and will he get a fair trial.

    Perhaps this commutation would be easier to live with if POTUS had also commuted Leonard Peltier's sentence. He's served far longer than anyone else with similar charges, even the prosecutor on his case asked POTUS for clemency and even the FBI has knows that he did not shoot that agent.

    On balance it seems too lopsided to be called real Justice.

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    1. False. There is no compelling evidence that Leonard Peltier is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. Did he receive a fair trial? Not really. Was the FBI determined to railroad him into prison? Of course. Do either of those things stand as proof Peltier is innocent? Nope.

      No evidence that Leonard is innocent. Lots of evidence that he is guilty. No evidence that someone else murdered those men.

      Peltier has been the darling of liberals who want to see the world in black-and-white terms with minorities always innocent and the government always guilty for quite long enough. He might not've gotten a fair trial and he may have an excessive sentence by comparison to others, but there is zero reason to believe he is completely innocent of the charges against him.

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    2. Commuting a sentence is different from pardon.

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    3. Or acquittal as well

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  49. Thank you.
    For being clear and concise, and in my opinion completely correct.

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  50. How 'bout 7yrs for Bush and Chaney and Rumsfeld etc.?

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  51. So disappointed. Came here expecting you to lay the hammer down ... only to find we're in complete agreement. Commuting the sentence was wholly appropriate. If we didn't have an incoming administration looking to roll back all the protections for LGBTQ folks, if we didn't have an incoming administration that thinks torture is A-OK, I might think differently. Leaving Chelsea Manning in Leavenworth, being treated (abused) as a man, would have been unconscionable.

    As always, you express the complications eloquently.

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    1. That's the real problem. They were using methods of punishment clearly designed to hurt her as a person. If she'd been put in a woman's prison and treated humanely, well, that's what she was sentenced to by a judge. But there was nothing about "justice" in what they were doing.

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  52. Good essay. It was nice to know your thoughts on Ms. Manning.
    Lucile Hester (former REMF)
    Pensacola, FL

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  53. I was keeping my fingers crossed when I clicked on the blog. But your reasoning is exactly what I tried to explain to my partner last night. He is a Vietnam veteran, served in Army Intelligence, and was outraged at what he saw as a pardon. No, Manning wasn't pardoned. So I'm sending him a link to your blog (and I've done in the past). I think hearing it from you will carry a little more weight than hearing it from me. And P.S. I've tried to ask around about the penguins, but no one seems to know what they mean.

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  54. Well said Chief Warrant Officer (few and further between now when WO3 is the highest the Army goes these days)

    Former Specialist US ARMY here FB https://www.facebook.com/tmdill

    I had a Secret Clearance and have been investigated for background checks by the FBI far too many to count. What she did was inexcusable but the time she served in FT Leavenworth Correctional barracks was not enough.

    Lest we forget, A DISHONORABLE DISCHARGE IS FOR LIFE
    You get no VA bennies, you get black listed for jobs that
    require the aforementioned FBI check,

    Commutation is the least of her worries.

    Her name is Dishonor.

    T Dill US Army 1979-1983 (Active) 1983-1990 (Fighting 40th Inf MECH CALIFORNIA NATIONAL GUARD) Honorable Discharge




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  55. Well written, I too can live with the commutation (especially since others of higher rank and other Administrations just walk!).
    Let her fade away and become a trivia question in 20 years.
    (For the moment though it's amusing to watch the RWNJs howl and scream like a clutch of banshees being herded back to hell.)
    Right now we have bigger fish to fry, saving our Nation from a party of nihilist Randian lunatics.

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  56. I appreciate that you wrote this out. It covers many things I could not figure out how to explain to the civilians in a cybercrime course I attended several years ago. The biggest item that I could point them towards was what Adrian Lamo remarked about how Manning presented the information: callously and in a bragging manner. That tells me there's less "doing the right thing" in the motive than "getting back at the 'man'" ~ as a former COIST NCO supporting LRS elements, such callousness towards secure operational information is unthinkable. There's a reason the CoC and CoR, as well as IG, exist. There's a reason why Congressmen have some form of security clearance.

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  57. as a former navy intel puke i don't have a problem with her commutation either. I did, and do, feel her sentence was excessively long. while she may not have exposed "war crimes" she did expose wrong doing. exposing wrong doing in the military is not always easy. i hope i would have had the courage of my convictions if i had been in her place, but that is said with the advantage of age.

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  58. As an ex Regular RAF Officer, despite the fact that I have been retired from the Service for several years, I remain subject to something the UK calls the 'Official Secrets Act'. This means there are things that can not be talked about, despite the fact that the same information might be freely available online.

    I'll repeat that. Things I can NOT talk about, EVER.

    If I did then it's gaol time - Game over. End of.

    So I'm with Jim on this, Chelsea Manning is a fucking stupid, self centred, navel gazing idiot, and criminal fool.

    Now, not being a US Citizen and certainly not a member of the USMil it is not my place to comment upon USMil Courts Martial procedure nor sentencing thereof.

    Having said that, the fact that Ms Manning is Trans but incarcerated in a male prison does seem overly harsh, Additionally a 35 year sentence might be seen over here as somewhat OTT.

    I would not pardon her although I can understand the commutation

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  59. I think Ms Manning may not be 'getting off' quite so easily as assumed. Imagine trying to live in a community, state, country where you are a known traitor of

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  60. Jim,

    I hope someday when I grow up I can convey my thoughts about complicated and serious issues as well as you do.

    Seriously, you inspire me to be a better person.

    Thank you for your insight, and your time in expressing it.

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  61. First, the president commuted Manning’s sentence. Manning wasn’t pardoned.

    That is it... that I agree with... not a pardon. The sentence was extreme in context. The notion of war crimes is harder to resolve. I remember at the time the US government was denying that US military forces were involved in this, so i feel that until the facts were (silently) revealed many felt this action was indeed a war crime.

    I agree with the fog of war analysis. I agree that Chelsea Manning l=blew her chance at solving a problem by her actions-- she deserves punishment, she received it... but no pardon. The crimes exist, the punishment too harsh, so commutation is the only stinking justice there is.
    I understand the oath... as a civilian who has worked for the military. You don't break the oath... dealing with Wikileaks has sown the hydra's teeth... the saviors of freedom now in the Russian pants.

    It's all a dirty business. Would any of this happened if the US government had not used extreme measure to cover this up, Abu Graib, the blue on blue casualties at Nasiriyah, covered up when the pilots were allowed to erase their film? Plus we had an administration that refused to use the word insurgency...

    What Manning did was a crime. Those Apache pilots have to live with it as you said, it wasn't a crime... I have to live with it too...

    I don't like playing politics with commutations... didn't Bush commute Scooter Libby? That pissed off VP Darth Cheney who wanted his gumbah set free and clear. As President Bush stated
    "I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison."

    Quid pro quo?

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  62. ... I don't think traitors are given much slack anywhere in the world. She is going to have a difficult life continuing to pay for her crime.

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  63. Well that was quite the read!

    Thanks for all the detailed information you provided. It's good to have all the facts when so much misinformation permeates social media. Being indifferent to Manning's situation I agree with the conclusion that he/she should never have had that particular job in an active war arena. War is ugly and final for so many. I have never been in that kind of war but can imagine what humans endure with ongoing violence. I thank every day for the men and women who actively served in one capacity or another.

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  64. Wow. What an incredible read, Chief. Your thoughtful dissertation should be required reading for everyone. Thank you.

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  65. Thank you Chief. Nailed it as always.

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  66. Thank you. I wish I could share this post, but the people I know wouldn't take the time to read it, or would stop when they got to the part about what war is. I like how you balance passion & levelheadedness. I turn to you for clarity, as everything else seems like snot smears on my glasses. I could argue little things with you, but there is no point. My old opinionated self is very far away from the mainstream. My biggest issue with this post was the typographical errors. I don't own a cell phone, so I cannot put a smiley face here. You would be so much fun to talk to! (dirty little laugh here) I miss my time in the service, brief as it was. The conversations were always the best part of our overnight battle simulation shifts. Again, Jim, thanks for doing what you do.

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  67. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.

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  68. Perhaps the torture, etc. made some of the reasons for the decision for Obama

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  69. As is usually the case, Jim, you say everything I would or could, only better. And that's as it should be, since your service and experience are far more on-point than mine. Thank you.

    Scott Burnell
    1st Armored Div. '86-'92

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  70. I was in the US Navy for six years, but was never in a war zone. Being a submariner is pretty different from what most servicemen experience. For the most part, we are not faced with immediate danger, nor are we generally called upon to make life or death decisions. So I cannot comment from Jim's perspective, but I agree with it almost exactly. The only thing I would differ on would be that as President (and I DO NOT want to be President) I would have done exactly as President Obama did. The sentence was not in line with other sentences and Chelsea's case was high enough profile that to ignore it would have been tantamount to accepting a startling new standard for what happened.

    A President cannot and should not be in the business of ensuring every individual in the Federal justice system, be it civilian or military, receives exactly the 'correct' punishment for their crime. But there are times when a President MUST step in and participate through his or her power to commute and pardon. Those are when a serious miscarriage of justice or inappropriate punishment has been recognized but the legal system is unable to right the wrong, and when an especially high profile case such as Manning's comes before them where a sentence--while perhaps not being wholly inappropriate--is clearly excessive and may have been arrived at for political purposes. In this case, the military was embarrassed and wanted to put the fear of God into anyone who would do anything similar. The trouble is that they changed the rules after the crime rather than before. They were caught looking foolish in their security and took it out on Manning rather than tightening procedures and proclaiming that from then on similar acts would be henceforth punished at the maximum possible level.

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  71. Welcome back. I was beginning to think that living in Florida was just too laid back and calming for you. (I'm a native so I get to say that - lol) The real you was here today though. It seemed appropriate that it was written in black and blue.

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  72. The thing that stands out for me in this is this:

    "That’s war, it’s brutal and it’s ugly and it’s inhuman and it is immoral (yes, immoral, war is inherently immoral no matter which side you are on. I’m not saying that war isn’t oft times justified or that the actions of individual soldiers aren’t moral and righteous, but war itself is a dirty immoral business and make no mistake about it). That is the vicious nature of war, perhaps if Americans actually understood that they’d be less eager to have one every ten years or so"

    Setting aside Manning (as here I have nothing to add), this is a huge issue. The general public's understanding of actual war, war that they often are called up on to support, is very limited by design. We are sheltered from the acts we are asked to fund and support, and that is wrong. I believe there are very real times when war is necessary and justified but I think North Americans in particular aren't really aware of what that means.

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  73. I agree with your reasoning and your conclusion. Thank you.

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  74. As a Vietnam Veteran, I can and do appreciate your viewpoint, Jim. Having been called a "babyKiller" and more unsavory things, I can empathize with you. Americans still do not understand the nature of war. It is not a game.
    One thing that always aggravated me was the American Media's ability to totally ignore the war crimes and atrocities that the NVA committed.
    Thanks again for an ecellent essay.

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  75. Thanks for helping me make sense of this. When I first heard of it (in passing), by first thought was "what the fuck?". After reading your analysis, and noting the (comparatively) harsh sentence, and the confirmation that it was a communition of sentence rather than a pardon, I can understand more fully. Well written, well articulated.

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  76. Deep Breath. Jim, I come at this from the point of view of a one-term Navy enlisted man, longer ago than I like to admit, and more recently, as a retired Foreign Service Officer (Dept. of State, diplomat)with 26 years of service. I, too, had the wind knocked out of me when I heard of the commutation.

    There has been much (needless) discussion of why or under what duress Manning did what she did. It does not matter. Manning is not and was not engaging in some activism for a higher cause. Like you, I have explained to many how an individual goes about reporting an unlawful (as opposed to immoral) action, mostly to blank stares.

    I will not now struggle to put my thoughts on this issue into words. Your two pieces of writing here sum it up very well. My only real gripe is that I would have preferred that Manning serve a bit more of the sentence--say, 10 years--but President Obama could not take this action at any later time. All in all, I will not lose sleep over it.

    Thank you.

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  77. Excellent post and speaking as a trans veteran it's a relief to see such clarity on the matter. Thank you.

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  78. seven years in a male prison, a dishonorable discharge and the guilt and shame that will come with maturity...i bow to the president's wisdom and mercy.

    i was once a young, transsexual private in way over my head, i didn't do anything as asinine, stupid and dangerous as chelsea did but i pushed my stupidity to it's limits on occasion. mercy is a wonderful thing.

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  79. I agree Shipmate with the vast majority of your tirade, and I too am ok with clemency. Ok with it and accepting the actions of a self confessed traitor are completly different things. I have heartburn with it. Plain and simple. Heartburn!

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  80. Spot on then, spot on now. Thanks, Jim.

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  81. Thank you for giving clarity to the folks without military experience. Having following the case, it was a shock to hear the announcement, but your analysis cut through most of the fog. So what happens to her in May upon release? Book deal? Talk shows? Will she be able to turn her story to profit? That concept isn't sitting well so I hope there is a clause somewhere that prohibits such an action.

    Great essay, hope your whiskey supply lasts longer than the hate mail. Cheers.

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  82. I hate seeing this subject come up again and I especially hate to see Jim publishing his opinion again. I've had to wrestle with the issue of oaths we vow before we know to what we're vowing. The big question for me is: How would we people who have every right to know what our government is doing in our name -- how would we know if it weren't for those who tell us?

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    1. This is the terrible challenge and problem of security. Once you accept that there are things — *any* things — that need to be kept secret, very secret, over-the-top-and-through-the-woods secret, then you accept that there are things that We The People are not *going* to get to know.

      Not.

      And that we trust some select class of people to know, hold, use, and protect those secrets *on our behalf.*

      AND here's the ugly part. It's all run by human beings. Things are done that are stupid and venal. There's crap that's classified NOT because it should be (see the vague but important notion above) but because it's awkward, painful, or embarrassing as hell for someone, and either they — or someone on their behalf — can classify it and bury it.

      Reality isn't big on pure. Pure is overrated, too. Could there be — should there be — some office whose job it is to go through classified material *looking* for abuse of classification? Probably. But that opens up another can of worms...

      I was never happy with Manning's actions, and didn't shed a tear over her conviction. She got what she deserved (she pled *guilty*). But as Jim observes, she probably got more than she justly deserved, using the raft of people who've done worse or been in higher position and done things they didn't get punished for, or punished much for.

      Jim's post makes the point — there's *nothing* that Manning leaked that couldn't have been handled through legitimate channels. And that means that all our systems to try to make sure that We The People get to know what we're entitled to and need to know *and* don't get told things that would put us at greater risk got ignored and violated.

      I'm with Jim on this. Conviction was just. And so was commuting the sentence. A pardon would have been the wrong message.

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  83. Yeah, that sums it up pretty well.

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  84. As a former Intelligence professional and a liberal thank you for this. Her and Snowden seem to get some pass from those on the left. While it can be argued that there was info Americans needed to know, more so Snowden than Manning, neither of them had to take the route they did to get that information out there. Both did what they did for personal gain. Not some since of a "moral obligation."

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    1. I cannot vouch for what Chelsea Manning could or could not have done differently.

      I *do* know what Edward Snowden did, because I had the same job 20 years before (except not in a National Security environment).

      As a system administrator, you are God On The Network.

      You have the power to "back up" the work (i.e., information) of *anybody* [you can read all of it]. That's your work, that's your responsibility.

      Short of a someone checking the SA's at the gate of the Booz Allen facility for "smuggled" USB keys - there is *no* electronic safety.

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  85. Tomorrow would be the birthday of my husband's cousin, who was KIA in Iraq in 2006. The kid was barely 21 years old. If Manning made him less safe, made any of our people less safe, then there is no excusing what she did. I don't care what the motivation may have been.

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  86. Interesting perspective, thanks for writing all of that. What do you think the deserved punishment is for Dick Cheney leaking the identity of a CIA agent?

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  87. Agreed. I have family members and friends who often ask my opinion on Snowden (I'm a retired Vet). Regardless of any good he may have done, he had to have broken the law prior to knowing about the illegal activity he exposed. If a person robs a bank and finds a dead body, he still robbed the bank.

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  88. I was having big mixed feelings about this as well (I am also a vet). Thank you again for a well-expressed essay that will clarify many things for many of us.

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  89. Thank you for all of your insights. As someone who grew up in a mostly pacifist family, I didn't know much about military life until I heard the excellent coverage of the Bowe Bergdahl case on "Serial". It was just a thumbnail sketch, but some of the things I learned were that it can be a big, boring slog in crap conditions, that not everyone felt the same about the situation, and that much of what was done wasn't done as a direct reaction to his defection (like in the movies) but because, well, that's protocol, and you follow it. What mostly surprised me is that Bergdahl insists he had a "plan" and a "purpose". Dude. Even *I* know that you never abandon your platoon, and to do so comes with severe punishment.

    "He didn’t do this out of some outraged sense of morality, he was doing it for the same reason every other traitor does it – because he thought he was smarter than his chain of command, because he thought himself above his brothers in arms, because he appointed himself moral guardian of America, and because he wanted to improve his situation at the expense of duty and honor." Yeah, if Bergdahl is to be believed, that statement nails it. (Personally, I think Bergdahl had darker ulterior motives, but whatever. I'm basing my opinion on what I heard from a podcast that probably just scratched the surface.)

    But, lily-livered-liberal that I am, I have always felt that the extent to which many people glorify "the troops" is over the top. While many people join up because they truly want to serve, just as many join because they don't know what else to do at that moment in their lives; because they feel they don't have a choice (i.e. disenfranchised/poor kids with no chance of getting an education); because they think it's going to be "YEE HAWW LET'S BLOW SOME SHIT UP!" I've known those guys, I've worked with those kids, the ones who wear army fatigues to school every day. And a lot of new recruits are YOUNG. I could barely find my ass to wipe it when I was 18 years old. I doubt many of these kids are better able. Also, many mental illnesses don't manifest until wel into one's 20's (and under situations of extreme stress), I'm sure PLENTY of sociopaths, manic depressives and schizophrenics make it in.

    In short, it's just like any other workplace. Some people are all in, some people mean well but can't get their shit together, and others, you can't figure out why they didn't get fired years ago for picking their noses all day. But for the "Patriots", concepts are more important than reality, and everything's black and white. Either they should be held up as the ultimate heroes, or get a bullet to the head. And Chelsea Manning, when she is released, will never be 100% safe, because a few of those Patriots might just see it as an honor to dispatch her themselves.

    Anyway, great post, thought provoking as always.

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  90. Commuted makes more sense than a pardon to me. I once had a security clearance. It's better to roll the turdball up hill, as you did in Iraq, than break an oath.

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  91. Thank you for a well thought out perspective. I would not even presume to judge from where I sit and glad to have someone's insight who is much more versed in the truths at play here.

    On a tangent, your mention of how many died in Iraq and Afghanistan brought something to the front of my mind. In the fire service we have recognized that the long term, low level exposure to carcinogens, physical stress, and emotional stress result in heart attacks, cancer, etc. You can die of cancer, or off duty of a heart attack, and it will be considered a line of duty death. It is long past time we count every veteran suicide as line of duty.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent but It had me wondering why we don't count them as line of duty deaths.

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  92. I am even more comfortable with her commutation in part because though you claim she could have gone to the IG, at the time according to the GAO the Army IG was a basket case and it really was not a viable path. She felt that her chain of command was out to get her (they probably were, she was a total fuckup), so that wasnt really an option either.

    If she wasnt a total fuckup the honorable thing to do was leak it and then turn herself in. But she was being a total narcissistic brat causing problems to get the attention she needed.

    Still, the lack of paths for addressing concerns is another reason she deserves clemency.

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  93. I get why Manning got a commuted sentence, but I am indifferent to this individual's fate. Life is going to be hard for this person till she passes away. I just wish that I would stop getting petitions in my email asking for pardons for Snowden. He is a big traitor in my book and he ran straight to our enemies.

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    1. I agree about Snowden. Spot on

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  94. I do not believe that Oboma did it for any other reason than his personal belief that the punishment was excessive to the crime. The crime mind you is about as serious as it can get, a step away from treason that resulted in American deaths. I will give Barrack a lot of latitude on this one, he has been a great defender of every Americans rights and if he belives this is necessary and correct I will not question him. However, if Chelsea ever is in my presence she will understand quickly from me that what she did is unforgivable for a soldier or a citizen of this country.

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  95. I'm pondering whether this was done in part to diminish Julian Assange's credibility.

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    1. Assange has done a perfectly good job diminishing his credibility without any help.

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    2. Assange actually ever had credibility?

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  96. I wish I were in the airlock over on FB so I could interact over there.

    Came to tell you that I completely agree with what you said here. I have been trying to decide how I felt about Manning's commutation. I am happy that there was no pardon and no acceptance of what she did. Like you, I will have to live with the President's decision as Manning will have to live with what she did to her fellow soldiers and her country.

    What meant so much to me is what you wrote back in 2010. I am married to an Inetlligence Analyst who served his time in the Army during peace time. But even though it was peace time, he was assigned to Panama at a time when we weren't officially there and certainly not in Nicaragua, wink wink, nod nod. All these years later he still suffers with the PTSD from watching his best friend die in what was classed as a "friendly fire accident". I read your post to him, minus the details of the video that could trigger an episode. He just kept agreeing and saying how spot on you were. He always says that in intel there are black and white but most of it is grey and the job of an intel analyst is to read the entire picture to his best ability to keep from having failures along the way. It is a tough job and one in which he controlled what people many levels higher were privy to. If something went wrong, it was on his head. It is a job he took very seriously and an oath he swore on his life. Which is why what Chelsea Manning did is reprehensible.

    Anyway, thanks for putting your words and thoughts out here. I so often find myself nodding in agreement with you and sharing your words with my husband. They have been the beginning of quite a few good discussions in our home.

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  97. As someone who formerly held a TS clearance and was the PIO in cases involving similar things, I agree. Thanks.

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  98. My only disagreement is that since we are not Manning we cannot know the internal thoughts and feelings and motives simply based upon actions. Paranormal psychology is not admissible in any court in this country, civil, military, or maritime. Only Manning would know that and calling an individual stupid is unfair. I agree with you that Patraeus should have been more severely punished. Like a black site. It's unfortunate that so many don't understand the difference between commutation and pardon.

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  99. I think you are spot on, as usual.

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  100. Amazing. I've been trying to come up with those words for the last day, just so I could rebut the hatred out there, but I'm sorely lacking in that department. YOU Jim, however... Nailed It. Thanks!

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  101. Can't really argue with any of it....well said. As a veteran myself you nailed the duty, honor, country perspective...and as a person that believes in empathy I believe clemency may be the compromise that allows the consequences of illegal actions to leave its sting.

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  102. Skimmed the comments and haven't seen this one mentioned yet... I don't think the subject is banned, so here goes:

    If we lived in a better country, one with comprehensive health care for the poor, this wouldn't bother me so much. But Ms. Manning, when she gets out of prison, is on her own for health care, and the Powers That Be in Washington are determined that she not get any--including that needed to complete her transition. So, interrupting her transition is a side-effect of having her sentence commuted, isn't it?

    As another commenter noted, she'll have a hard time building a career, the kind that brings health benefits with it. So she may indeed be still under a life sentence, one applied to too many innocent Americans: to be stuck in a body that doesn't fit with her gender identity.

    Now, you might say such a sentence is not undeserved... but the thing is, those of us who've never been in that position really can't know how devastating it is. Maybe it is deserved. Maybe it totally isn't. I don't know. But something worth thinking about.

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    1. Oregon covers transistions for those on Medicaid, I don't imagine it is the only state.
      With Clemency, I believe she could also leave our country and, perhaps, go somewhere else with more options.
      As to everything else, she probably has more options than most solely due to her notoriety.
      On the whole, I agree with Jims points. I do think it is wrong to imply that what Petraeus and Clinton did are the same though. Patreaus actively disclosed classified info, and then attempted to hide the evidence.
      On Clintons side, some classified spilled over into the unclassified side- wether under a .gov address or not. It's not an unusual occurrence- we have seen it happen live on television at congressional hearings. Her server wasn't a 'secret'- it was in the address. There was a lack of technical knowledge that weakened security, not any sort of active attempt to expose intelligence.

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  103. I have to admit that I haven't followed this case. I'm not going to criticize you, I think your argument is rational. The part that is my biggest takeaway is what war is. Too many who live in the US consider it a game, and don't fully understand the consequences. My father, uncles, and friends of my parents were in WWII, they didn't have people telling them they had PTSD, so when they drank too much, had fits of anger, nobody said it was because of the war, they were just bad people.

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  104. Thank you, Jim. No fury from this side of things, as your clarity of thought throughout is remarkable, and the points you make are both excellent and thought-provoking.

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  105. “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi

    What difference your fucking sacred oaths of secrecy and honor?

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    1. What difference? Well, if have to explain it to you, you'd never understand.

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    2. Jim, I'm totally with you on this.

      Having said that, a proposition (in 2 Parts):

      1. In a virgin essay, Explain the concept of 'fucking sacred oaths' to Anonymous.

      2. In yet another, in all the years since I served, in all the years since I stood on the tarmac at Lackland AFB in 1973 as the first of the POWs came home, no one, and I mean NO one, has ever come closer to describing the realities of that thing called combat as you have. (In particular, your post about a Chief @ Pearl. I'm still awed by that one.)

      How about dedicating your superior talent to educating those who HAVE NO CLUE in the minutiae of the battle space, paying particularly close attention to all those things you elude to above - e.g., Not Pretty.

      Lucy

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  106. Jim -

    Well thought out and eloquently expressed. And I learned a lot reading it. Thank you.

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  107. Great read. Appreciate military viewpoint. Thanks.

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  108. I (and many others I would wager) needed to read this very convincing perspective. Thank you.

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  109. I tend to agree with you on all points. She is guilty as hell and she does h ave to live with the consequences of her actions. At the very least, she will live with a Dishonorable Discharge hanging around her neck for the rest of her life. I think Obama was partly motivated by compassion and I believe that was the correct choice.

    Now, it would be nice if he could dig up the same compassion for Leonard Pelletier.

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  110. Very powerfully and well written. I too appreciate the personal perspective that you brought to this. As a civilian,I can't even begin to think that I understand any of this. But from what you've shared, I'm glad that it was a commutation and not a pardon.

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  111. Chief,

    Having followed you here and on FB for a while, I will admit that I was initially very angry at the commutation of Private Manning's sentence. She is a traitor, by her own admission, and was justly convicted of her crimes. I have never been to WikiLeaks, as there is undoubtedly stuff on there that I have not been read on to.

    As yesterday and today progressed, I came to a number of the same conclusions that you and others pointed out in your essay and in this thread - permanent Dishonorable Discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, loss of VA benefits, and so on.

    In the end, I came up to about the same conclusions as you (and others on this thread) did, but I would be lying if the whole thing doesn't still chap the hell out of my ass.

    Thank you for putting into words so well what I have been thinking.

    - Velociraptor
    SSG, USA
    Retired

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  112. Thanks Jim, your perspective as always helps clear the facts up. As a former firefighter I'm all too aware of the need for the occasional gallows humor. As a former civil servant I was and still am all to aware of oaths sworn. Each part of the government has a process to anonymously report on suspected law breaking or misappropriation of budgets. As I've explained to friends, she was never convicted of treason. She failed her oath. She failed her comrades in arms. She has served time as appropriate for the crimes committed - as compared to others you have mentioned.

    Mike H.

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  113. I greatly appreciate the perspective you bring to this, Mr. Wright. I had no idea that Bradley/Chelsea Manning was as careless and reckless in leaking this information as you laid out. Also is good to get the precise meaning of "commutation" out there. It is basically a parole without the formal hearing, I am gathering.

    Agree wholeheartedly that her gender identity has no bearing on her crime. It likely had much to do with Obama's decision to commute the sentence since it was contributing a great deal to her isolation and general ill health at Leavenworth. It was the humane thing to do. It is noteworthy and poignant that even though she'll be free from prison in four months, the stain of her treason and stupidity will be with her until the end of her life.

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  114. "...but it’s damned hard to hold the troops to account when their commanders set such examples." This, I feel, is going to be the crux of our problems in the coming future. Coming from a military family, I agree with everything you wrote,then and now. The situation sets a dangerous precedent. Especially now, with the incoming Commander in Chief, we have to support those on the ground, in the air, and on the sea.

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  115. You've given me a lot to think about.

    Part of me has sympathy for what Manning has struggled with in life. It had to be incredibly painful, and while my life has been very different from hers, I know first-hand how years of relentless psychological pain can twist you into a nasty, cruel human being.

    But I've never been in the military either, so hearing your views on the matter, how her actions were a terrible betrayal of the trust and beliefs of those that trusted and depended on her...I can't say I could blame you for your condemnation of her. If I believe her life experiences fundamentally affected her views and decisions, I must believe that your life experiences also fundamentally affect your views on the matter too.

    Regardless of what she endured, she is responsible for her actions and, if she is ever to become a better person, she must face and accept that she acted shamefully, and try to atone for the repercussions of her actions. I hope she reaches that point.

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  116. I feel uncomfortable when you describe war; what you've seen up close, decisions you've made.
    I suppose you've succeeded, then, in bringing to light what my inability to serve in the military has shielded me from, and what I must never take for granted.

    My discomfort aside, I am glad I read this. That's how I feel about all of your writing.
    Just... Thank you for everything, Jim. It's not just the writing that you give us.

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  117. Just to put things in perspective here.

    Ford pardoned Nixon

    Her gender is a non issue

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  118. Right or wrong what she did is not something I have the experience or expertise to comment on. But the sentence seemed out of proportion with other sentences and holding someone in solitary for so many years is torture. So commuting the sentence seemed to me the most sensible solution.

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  119. i would be interested to find out exactly how much Assanges agreement to submit to extradition at the release of Manning influenced the decision,, such information is above my pay grade though.

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  120. I agree with you, Jim. She knew exactly what she was doing and she knew it was a betrayal of her oath as a voluntary member of the US Armed Services. She acted self righteous, without circumspection, and she put lives in danger.

    I also agree with what the President did in this case. She was not pardoned. Her sentence was commuted. Still guilty but time served. Which is not to say she won't still be in "jail" the rest of her life with her conviction hanging like a sign around her neck till the day she dies.

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  121. I've tried 3 times to compose a response and keep deleting it. As you said, war is an immoral and dirty business and issues surrounding it are always the source of great internal conflict for me. I see both its immorality and its necessity and, in 4 decades of trying, I have yet to resolve that conflict.

    Honor is a complex subject that I know I do not fully comprehend. It can be both heroic and foolish from my standpoint. Today is my son's birthday. He is named in memory of one the veterans that Vietnam broke, who killed himself rather than besmirched his honor, as he saw it. After reading your essay, perhaps President Obama found the best path. Grant mercy, but do not expunge the guilty verdict.

    Thank you for making me think, for making me face things I would rather not look at and for coming back from the business of war unbroken enough write with integrity and for doing so in an effort to inform your fellow citizens and to call us to be better ones. When I hear the word 'patriot', your name is one of the first to come to mind.

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    1. What the above comment said. I also have been trying to compose a reply And kept deleting it.

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  122. As someone who was a traffic analyst at Field Station Berlin, back when the Wall still stood, I was as baffled be Manning's betrayal as I was to a lesser degree by fellow troops suddenly announcing "OMG, this data is so we can KILL people!" Duh, as they say now - but yes, considering how Petrayus is bellying up to Trump's bar without consequence - I understand the commutation. Life will never be easy for Manning - she has certainly made the bed she will lie in.

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  123. *(my sincere apology, I did not see the "airlock" post about Manning messages until after I sent this)

    Hi Jim, though we occasionally disagree, I always respect your opinion and service. Very different from mine to say the least. I've asked this question numerous times of numerous fellow veterans. Where is the rest of the chain of command on this? How did a 19? year old kid have SO much access? I understand that a lot of the brass did not understand the tech as well as they should have, but allowing music CD's to be brought into a building/tent where some of the most highly classified files available are? Why is there even a CD drive in that computer? Oh the list goes on and on and on. I have similar feelings about the Lindy England case in Abu Ghraib. Lowest female on the totem pole got the harshest sentence from what I've read. Well, thank you again for another very well written, well thought out post, and hope you have a great 36 hours (That's about how long until Trump?) Stay safe and have a great weekend. G

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  124. And he pardoned another at the same time that also deserved criticism:

    https://www.city-journal.org/html/obamas-shame-14971.html

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  125. After the GOP praised Assange as a new age American hero and decided that wikileaks was a valid purveyor of information, and after Caribou Barbie cyber blew Assange via Facebook, maybe this was a shrewd political move by President Obama. With everything that we know, it would seem that there existed the possibility of the incoming CinC's first official action being the PARDON of Manning. After all, he owes his election, at least in part, to the actions wikileaks took, (in concert with other players), against the DNC. So I can see where President Obama may have used his last days in office to make sure that Manning carried the shame of betrayal for the rest of her life, and to remind all of us that not so long ago wikileaks and Assange were as vilified as Bin Laden and the Taliban and that maybe we as a nation should stop and think about what outside forces may be at work, and what the political agenda might be, when sensitive information is publicly divulged by a third party.

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  126. As always, well spoken. I thank you for conveying your opinion in a manner that allows me to understand why military personnel, past and present, are so angry at this person -- as a non-veteran, a civilian, I had difficulty understanding the anger and indeed, hatred, towards Manning. I feel much better informed about the subject now, and while I do not feel the same anger towards her, I can at least understand why others do feel so.

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  127. Thank you for this, Jim--the best piece I've seen on Manning's sentence being commuted.

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  128. Thank you for your clear sightedness and coherent thoughts. I appreciate your reasoned response to this event.

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  129. I'm sorry if this is a repeat, I'm new to this platform. Thank you for your clear sightedness and coherent thoughts on this event. You have made me reconsider my very bad first response and agree with your comments.

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  130. As a fellow vet, let me say thank you for such a well-written post. Your thoughts mirror my own.

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  131. Thanks for sharing your take on this. I appreciate your perspective as someone experienced with both the military and intelligence community.

    I agree that Manning deserved the conviction she received. I don't think she should be subjected to so much time in solitary confinement which is a form of torture. I'm still of a mind we should not participate in torture. Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe the reason she's in solitary confinement so much is because she is a transgender woman in a man's prison. My solution is this, she should be allowed to complete her gender reassignment, even if it means we pay for it, and be placed in a women's prison to complete her sentence.

    I'm a Lesbian that's still learning about the transgender community myself, even though I've known transgendered people since the 80s, but the term "trans" is not considered a respectful way to refer to members of their community. You might consider changing it to transgender in the following sentence. "And you know what, that’s bullshit – unless you are suggesting to me being trans makes you inherently unreliable."

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  132. Jim - I agree 99% with your assessment of the situation. The 1% you didn't address is this: the issues regarding transgender prisoners. Due (partially) to her small physical stature, Manning had to be placed in solitary confinement for her own safety. Which also makes me question the charge that he (at the time) assaulted another soldier. I think the "cruel and unusual punishment" aspect of the solitary confinement weighed heavily in the president's decision to commute. It's my guess that President Obama can hold two views in his head that the same time - that(1) though Manning is a scum bag (2) she still needs to be afforded her basic human rights.

    JZinFL (who would still just love to be let into the FB airlock)

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  133. Thank you for this. THIS is what I think of when I hear people talk about listening to different perspectives. So much of the "opposition" to the views and values I live by is not something I can listen to; the humanity, dignity, and autonomy of other human beings, however different from me, is not debatable for me. But then there are questions of policy and perspective that CAN be debated, and when I can hear an opposing view from someone whose logic, ethics, and humanity I've come to trust (and generally agree with), then I have to pause and really consider a new perspective. If we agree most of the time, and we don't agree on something, then I have to respectfully ponder your considered opinion and experience I don't have. Prior to reading this, I chalked Manning's behavior up to whistleblowing, and I'm pro-whistleblowing, but I can see now that there's far more to it, and as a lifelong civilian peacenik, I just didn't have that data. Thanks for giving it to me.

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  134. I'm sorry Jim. For the first time ever I have to disagree with you. You are wrong. Absolutely, unequivocally, bass-ackwards wrong, and it breaks my heart to have to be the one to tell you so.

    When you announced this essay on Facebook you said I wouldn't like it.

    And you were just so wrong.

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  135. Thoughtful & insightful. The world is not black & white; many times we have conflicting feelings about complicated issues. I agree with Mr. Obama's decision but it took some time & research (including reading your post) to come to that decision.

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  136. I agree with you that what Manning did was wrong, and I too can live with clemency but would have been angry at a pardon. But I'm going to posit a theory here, and it may be overreach, but here I go: Since it's often seemed to me that Obama plays chess while others play checkers, do you think that this commutation had the extra effect further discrediting Trump's second favorite guy, next to Putin - Assange? Because Assange famously said that if Manning were released, he'd give himself up for extradition and of course now he's saying the commutation doesn't meet his criteria. Which makes him look like the total weasel that he is. That came to me during my nightly 3AM impending inauguration panic attack, so it's definitely squirrel-brain stuff, but I think there may be a grain of truth in it.

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  137. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and giving us an insightful, fair response. I appreciate your candor.

    And thank you for serving honorably. Those 43 lives may not seem huge, but for their loved ones, for the people who depended on them, your act was gigantic. It shows that we can treat people with respect, we can do the right thing, we can do the human thing, even in the hardest circumstances - like war.

    We are facing a rough road ahead, but your insight gives me hope that we can behave honorably, even as we fight for our rights and the Constitution.

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  138. JW, well reasoned as always. The only bit I disagree with enough to comment on is this passage:

    "We, all of us including Manning, went of our own volition."

    It's true we have an all-volunteer military... But there were a whole *lot* of National Guard units deployed to Iraq. Most of them didn't expect to serve abroad in an expeditionary war of dubious validity (it's certainly not the Guard's primary mission). And all the reservists called up and sent back into duty-- people who maybe expected to serve again in a time of great need, but not because GWB/Cheney/Rumsfeld were willing to spin and lie their way into a war begun under false pretenses, for reasons almost certainly other than national security. There was never an existential threat to the United States or her close allies, so certainly no reasonable expectation for extended deployment of these 2nd-tier units.

    So it's hard to say they all went of their own volition. They went feeling they had no other choice? Sure... What other option? Getting a rare conscientious objector status? Going AWOL? Getting a dishonorable discharge (and there goes your future employability)? It's hard to imagine there weren't lots of people who were not there of their own volition.

    I guess you're doing pretty well if that one sentence is the biggest nit I could pick!

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    1. Omars,

      A great many things are done by military personnel that are not of their own volition in the sense you describe. I once pissed off a general and ended up walking in a circle in knee deep mud for 8 hours. God knows I'd never have chosen to do that, military or no, "of my own volition."

      But my sergeant ordered me to do it, it was a legal order, and I did it because I voluntarily entered the service in the full knowledge that I might be ordered, legally, to do things I didn't want to do. So ultimately it was my choice.

      I believe this is what Jim meant by "all of us . . . went of our own volition."

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  139. I've rarely disagreed with anything you've ever written but here we are at that crossroad. You wrote "yes, I know you’re reaching for your keyboard right now in fury". Your wrong. I'm reaching for my keyboard to thank you for putting this shit show in perfect perspective.
    I like you, am somewhat ambiguous about whether she rots in jail or is commuted. Life for her will be no joy ride and she may have been safer in there than on the street as another person has already pointed out.
    I was never able to serve and I regret that. I was born with a congenital heart defect that prevented me from volunteering but I did spend just under ten yrs in LE and like you and every other enlisted man and woman took an oath which, for good or bad I honored and still do.
    Thank you also for pointing out the use of "gallows humor" many have used i the line of duty to maintain their sanity. If ppl heard the joking in the locker rooms and situation rooms during shift change in every LE agency in the country they would be outraged. We mean no disrespect for the maimed or dead by it. It is simply put, a coping mechanism to get you through the day. I've scraped ppls faces off the grills of Big Trucks, taken battered and beaten women and children out of abusive homes, sat through autopsies of infant's and much worse.
    I'd also like to commend you for going against the grain where it comes to the influence of violent, most of the time military first person shooter video games and movies. I've heard all the BS objections and it's just that, BS. Simple reasoning will lead to a simple conclusion. When young children are exposed to this type of "entertainment" it will have an affect on their perception of reality. Unfortunately our entertainment industry loves blood and guts, the more the merrier. War, murder and sex sells. It also numbs us to the reality that war, as you so aptly put it, is immoral by nature regardless of the necessity.
    even on the very rare occasion I disagree with you on what are usually trivial points, I consider my monthly contribution to you money well spent.
    Please for the sake of all of us keep telling the truth regardless of the ugliness of it. Truth is often ugly, especially to those who do not wish to see it.

    Kirk Welch

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  140. I still think the first crime, the first betrayal, is what matters. And that was the decision to launch a war of choice.

    Going forward, her crimes are going to be considered very minor, considering the crimes I'm expecting to see from the new President and his crooked cabinet.

    I still view her as more of a Daniel Ellsburg than a Benny Arnold.

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  141. Your experience and thoughts on this issue mirror mine completely [Iraq 04, 05, 06]. Thanks for posting.

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  142. Your comments on the "elephant" of Manning's gender issues are spot-on. Thank you for so clearly pointing out that excusing or explaining Manning's conduct by them is an insult to LGBT people. Your explanation of why what Manning did was wrong is deeply instructive and illuminating. I have for a long time shared your view that war is intrinsically immoral, sometimes necessary, and never glorious. For me, as a lawyer whose work includes criminal law, commutation of Manning's sentence accords with a fundamental principle of sentencing -- proportionality between the penalties imposed on different offenders for similar crimes. For Manning, as for every person who comes out of prison, I hope that she will be able to make some kind of productive life for herself. Quietly and out of the public eye, not as a poster child for whistleblowing.

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  143. So what's not to like?

    -- EMH

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  144. My question is what failure of command resulted in such a conflicted and troubled person being repeatedly placed in a position to access classified information and what security failures further made it possible for anyone to sneak data out of the secret facility? Manning made a choice, but it sure seems to be a minor sacrifice for a dysfunctional environment and command/operations failure.

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    1. I also deplore the carelessness of those in charge of vetting people for security clearance! I think the military just got desperate for warm bodies. That's why they mobilized the National Guard, the Reserves, and inactives, even those too old and in terrible health and physical condition. Then they stop-gapped everyone, returning them endlessly to the war in a bizarre version of Russian Roulette.

      They repeatedly lowered enlistment standards to the point where even disqualifications like testing below normal intelligence or having a criminal past or gang ties could be waived. That occurred because the illegal, unjustified invasion of a sovereign country in order to steal its oil was no longer easily veiled by jingoism and lies about connections to 9/11, so the flood of naive young people to sign up to avenge 9/11 had slowed to a pathetic trickle.

      Chelsea Manning did not suddenly become a security risk. Proper vetting would have easily revealed her as one and denied her a security clearance, and proper supervision would have spotted problems even after her clearance had been granted. But they were desperate for warm bodies.

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  145. Well, she WILL have to live with it. Like Cain, she has branded herself with the whispers of traitor, murderer, fink, whatever, FOREVER. She is not famous, but notorious, and that notoriety will follow her to her grave; she has brought shame upon her family and dishonor upon herself. The President was kind; not at all unusual for him. And she? Back in the limelight! Like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich (and other social diseases!), we'll never quite get rid of her. The media will make it linger on and on, long past its expiration date. One day she'll die, and there will be an orgy of stupidities, and then mercifully-silence! Until some random link drags up her spectre again.

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  146. Please allow me to quote one Charles Pierce:

    "At the end of his term, President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, who had been convicted of misleading Congress as to the outing (purely out of political vengeance) of a covert CIA operative named Valerie Plame. At the end of his term, President George H.W. Bush pardoned everyone convicted of engaging in the criminal act of selling missiles to a state-sponsor of terrorism and diverting the profits to a private war in Central America. Libby never served a day in jail. Neither did any of the Iran-Contra characters who skated.

    " . . . Since her conviction, she has been incarcerated at Leavenworth, including long stretches of solitary confinement. She has attempted suicide twice. If you think she got off easy, you're out of your mind."

    In 2011, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture warned that solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities, or juveniles.”

    No, Manning didn't get off easy.

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  147. Jim, this is not an easy problem you've tackled, and in this rare case I disagree with you in many parts. First and most importantly, how will Americans know of the carnage done in our name — and in other contexts of corruption, venality, and other evils — unless we have whistleblowers?

    Should Manning have reported this up the chain of command or to her Congressman or Senator? And then what? The material was classified, and therefore it would be a rare Congressman or Senator who would go public with it, or even pursue it. So what would she have achieved? I suspect ditto with the IG, don't you?

    The sad truth is, that it's easier to bury misdeeds with a classified stamp than it is to uncover them and expose them to what one Supreme Court justice called the disinfectant of sunlight, than it is to blow a whistle. And if we routinely and severely punish whistleblowers even with the excuse that they've taken an oath of secrecy, who will ever blow a whistle, even if there's a supposed whistleblower protection law?

    Think back to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. He was no doubt subject to secrecy laws. But his actions were among those that finally got us out of the quagmire of Viet Nam.

    And as has been mentioned in this space, General Petraeus gave classified material to his extramarital girlfriend for whatever benefit one can imagine for such an act. Manning, whether stupidly or not, might have imagined her actions patriotic. Patraeus doesn't even have that excuse. How many hours has he spent behind bars.

    One of the commenters here referred to England Official Secrets Act. If ever there was a law that guarantees that some evil people will die on their own beds, while the people who expose them rot in prison, that one is it. Heaven help America if we get an Official Secrets Act Equivalent, and it could happen under a Trump administration.

    As I started to say, this isn't an easy problem. We need secrets to protect troops and others in dangerous places at difficult times. But we also need, at least some of the time, to let go of it.





    On the other hand, we don't want some idiot giving away troop movements to the enemy.



    Four thousand, five hundred and fourteen of us died in Iraq.

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    1. "One of the commenters here referred to England Official Secrets Act. If ever there was a law that guarantees that some evil people will die on their own beds, while the people who expose them rot in prison, that one is it. Heaven help America if we get an Official Secrets Act Equivalent, and it could happen under a Trump administration."

      Firstly please do not conflate 'England' with the 'United Kingdom'. Doing so merely pisses off the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish (hint: I'm not English)!

      Secondly, my being subject to the Official Secrets Act does NOT in any way, shape or form, prevent whistleblowing. In fact, by the very fact of holding the Queen's Commission I am duty bound by order of the Monarch to follow the 'Rules and Discipline of War' (it clearly states so on my Commissioning scroll which I received from the Queen, and which she personally signed). In other words, the Monarch COMMANDS me to whistle blow in cases of illegality such as, for example, breaches of the various Geneva Conventions (and the Protocols thereto) or breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict.

      However there is a right way to whistle blow and a wrong way. In my case, if I felt reporting to my direct chain of command had resulted in (at best) inaction or (at worst) a cover up I can have direct access to (and report to) my Air Officer Commanding, the Chief of the Air Staff, the Chief of the Defence Staff and (ultimately)the Monarch.

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  148. I'm afraid that I fell in to the simplistic 'bad, bureaucratic military vs brave whistle-blower ' thinking and thus didn't do any more research on the situation .
    Your essay has given me a lot to think about.

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  149. Good read. For me you clearly id the reason for keeping her in prison, not to protect, not to reform, but to punish.
    In this case 35 years would likely result in a 5 year death sentence due to suicide.
    I don't see the win in continuing to punish her to that extent, it won't dissuade other idiots even if she dies in prison. What's left is a purely emotional response of "rot, you hurt us badly."

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  150. Just 1 little correction needed Jim. There was no classified email found on Hillary Clinton's server. You can hear Comey admit it to Rep Cummings at the end of the hearing. https://youtu.be/Bdok3aOoupk

    You're not alone in believing she had classified info on the secure server because the media, with very few exceptions ever reported the truth rather than the spin about her. This is one of the few that got it accurately reported. http://thedailybanter.com/2016/08/hillary-clinton-isnt-lying-the-fact-checkers-are/ from July then just days before the election this http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/4/13500018/clinton-email-scandal-bullshit

    When Historians look at the email "scandal" the press/media will not come off well. Very few ever got to the truth and reported all the facts. Most just ran with the spin so the vast majority of Americans believe she was sending/storing classified info which is not true. There was never anything considered classified by the State Department in her email. Stuff the CIA wanted classified but was already public info thanks to the NYTimes/WaPo doesn't count. She and the 13 correspondents were trying to figure out State Department responses to already public info about drone strikes in Yemen. Finally, remember that President Clinton's server was never hacked like the government systems.

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  151. I will say this: Corporal Manning is a better person than Edward Snowden or Glenn Greenwald. This is my opinion.

    Why do I think this? Corporal Manning was punished for the crime. Commuted sentence or no, there was punishment. And Julian Assange is a slime.

    Greenwald and Snowden planned and plotted and carried out the plan to lie on the form for the security clearance and background check. This is not speculation. They've admitted to it. And NEITHER of them is sorry.

    And while there is no definite proof that Snowden sold his secrets to China or Russia, considering Russia's hacking and all that, I think he did, which is why he is being allowed to stay in Russia.

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  152. You did a damn fine job with this post. I was furious when I first heard Manning's sentence was being commuted and I have to admit that it was a personal and emotional reaction. My husband is military, so the idea that there are people out there who would put him at risk just infuriates me. I don't have any sympathy for Manning, but I think I can live with this outcome.

    One point I want to make is that I feel the ignorance that many civilians have displayed about this case actually fuels my anger and I think that might be true of a lot of people who are connected to the military. It's a lot harder for me to think about potentially unfair hardships Manning has faced when I'm constantly bombarded with people who think she was just the best thing since sliced bread. I feel like my concerns are dismissed and in turn, I just stop listening. There's only so much of that a person can hear and try to remain open to dialogue.

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  153. The one thing that bothered me about her sentence revolved around evidence presented at trial.

    First, her psychiatrist specifically recommended she never be placed in close contact with classified information. Her CO ignored that.

    Then, evidence was presented at trial that the "secure" shack in Iraq was anything but secure with everyone bringing in CD's, players, recorders, etc, and walking right back out with them. SOP was not even defined, apparently, let alone followed.

    And then, on top of this, none of the OFFICERS who placed her in that position, despite a clear medical recommendation that she not be placed in that position, even got a slap on the wrist from what I've read. Several got promotions, which is utter bullshit.

    So, from where I sit, the 35 years looked way too much like scapegoating to provide cover for the officers whose failures created that moment, even when they'd been warned beforehand that she was a risk.

    Because of all that, I accept the commuted sentence. She's guilty. She was convicted. She served several years. Done. Over.

    If they'd gone after the officers, even if they'd at least slapped wrists going up the chain of command, maybe I'd feel differently. But when they promoted those incompetent asses who created this situation? Nope, commute her sentence. 35 years was just bullshit.

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