At a White House press conference on Friday, press secretary Josh Earnest broke silence around the Chelsea Manning's plea for clemency, sending what some advocates believe to be a signal that the president may soon decide in Manning's favor. When asked by a reporter about Manning's and Edward Snowden's clemency requests, Earnest spoke at length about their cases, which is in itself unusual.
Earnest carefully and clearly distinguished between the two cases in a way that appears the White House may favor Manning's request to be set free. "The Department of Justice and the president will consider individual clemency applications on their merits," Earnest explained. He went on to "illustrate the pretty stark difference between Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden," explaining that Manning, unlike Snowden, has gone through the "military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing." Comparatively, Earnest explained, Snowden "fled into the arms of an adversary."
With just days left in office, President Obama is now pressed to make decisions about the freedom of two of our country's most high-profile whistleblowers. Chelsea Manning has repeatedly maintained that her actions were motivated by her belief that the American people should be informed about international operations of their own government. These values are now more important than ever: As previously reported by Broadly, "incoming President Donald Trump's expansive military and surveillance powers, his apparent disinterest in truth, and cavalier attitude toward potential Russian interference in American politics" highlights the importance of transparency in government today.
Chelsea Manning has gained significant support in her plea to President Obama for clemency. Most notably, Manning and her advocates successfully filed a White House-sponsored petition that garnered more than 100,000 signatures, asking the President Obama to alter Manning's sentence from 35 years to time served, which would release her immediately.
Chelsea Manning's case has been analyzed and investigated by virtually every major media organization, with many—including Broadly—finding that her imprisonment and sentencing far exceeds any reasonable state action for similar crimes. The abuses that Manning has endured in prison are well-documented: the egregious and unprecedented length of her sentence, as well as the military's ongoing failure to provide Manning fully with the medical treatment that she requires as a prisoner with gender dysphoria.
"The situation of these two individuals is quite different," Earnest said, continuing to differentiate between Manning and Snowden, perhaps rationalizing why the President might act more favorably towards one than the other. "I can't speculate at this point to what degree that will have on the President's consideration of clemency requests," Earnest added.
"I know that there's a temptation—because the crimes were relatively similar—to lump the two cases together. But there are some important differences, including the scale of the crimes that were committed and the consequences of their crimes," Earnest said. "Obviously, as Chelsea Manning has acknowledged, and as we have said many times, the release of the information that she provided to WikiLeaks was damaging to national security. But the disclosures by Edward Snowden were far more serious and far more dangerous."
Earnest explained that the Department of Justice does have a process by which they review clemency requests and their recommendations are then considered by the President. It was reported earlier this week that an unnamed source in the DOJ claims Chelsea Manning is a on President Obama's clemency "short list."
Evan Greer, the campaign director of Fight for the Future, is one of Manning's strongest advocates. She helped Manning to petition the White House for clemency. "This White House press secretary statement is the strongest indication yet that President Obama is considering doing the right thing here and commuting Chelsea's sentence to time served," Greer said. If Obama does make that decision, Manning will rejoin the world an important advocate at a dire political moment. And, her supporters feel, her life may be saved. In December of 2016, Chase Strangio, one of Chelsea's lawyers at the ACLU, told Broadly that Manning's "chances of surviving in prison much longer are slim, and action [by President Obama] now will prevent the government from overseeing her unnecessary and untimely death."
"Chelsea has widespread support from across the political spectrum," Greer said, hopeful that the latest statements made by the White House foreshadow an official decision to release Manning. "Hundreds of thousands of people have taken action for her. If President Obama does not act now to end her unnecessary suffering, his administration's treatment of Chelsea Manning will go down as one of the darkest moments in our nation's history."