The ground shifted in Washington and elsewhere with the news that Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence had been commuted in the outgoing president’s spasmodic burst of compassion.
The head of an entrenched foreign policy characterized by equal parts force, arrogance and ignorance commuted the sentence of a lowly private who, in frustration upon witnessing the lies told by his employer to hide the nature of that foreign policy, provided raw material to Wikileaks.
The feds tried to show that severe (or indeed any) damage had been done by the release of these documents and video. Instead, we have discovered only that the US government is cruel and frequently violates the domestic and international law. We noted that our diplomats are two-faced and government employees at all levels can be petty and peevish.
Private Manning was probably pretty upset by this. She, like many people in my generation and hers and those in between, joined the military out of a desire to be above all that pettiness and narcissism, in service to the country, in defense of the Constitution and rule of law.
Manning’s incarceration has been particularly unpleasant. The US government was extremely embarrassed by the leaks and angered by the subsequent global popularity of Wikileaks itself as a valuable service for news organizations, governments and people around the world who want to see what is really going on. Wikileaks gets no credit for improving both national intelligence quality and procedure, but it has done more than any IG or congressional study toward that end.
Our modern kingdom does not feature nor protect court jesters. Kings of previous eras were not nearly as arrogant as the modern bureaucratic state. Our jesters will be incarcerated, tortured, and silenced, because as Orwell observed, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Manning has been living a life of an Orwellian character. His tortured existence is, however, not entertainment, not simply informative. His transgenderism created for him a new kind of sympathy, new condemnation, and contempt, but his life experience indicts our statism and our Republic far more deeply.
Americans wonder about Chelsea’s true identity and shake their heads, while visions of their fantasy Republic still resonate. Our collective ability to assess facts and rationally examine our own government, to recognize the immense yet superficial bureaucratic state and sense the spine and sinew of the far more murderous deep state, remains infantile, emotional and reactive.
If the jesters are to be tortured and ridiculed, the jokers are not. Obama’s simultaneous pardon – full wipe – of Marine General Jim Cartwright is a good example. Cartwright was vice chairman of the JCS, and he gave at least two reporters classified nuclear-related information and later lied about this during the investigation. Not charged at all with releasing classified to the media, Cartwright pled guilty to lying to investigators about what he did, and faced, but had not yet begun to serve, jail time for lying, not leaking.
In an era marked by whistleblowing and truthtellers and the nonstop disregard of classification protections by Washington insiders for political purposes, these seem to be the only pardons or commutations in this category on the list of 209 commutations and 64 pardons. The bomb-dropping peace prize-winner has himself been a reliable character in an Orwellian dystopia, playing his part well. There is no reflective angst, no deliberation on right and wrong. Chelsea Manning is transgender and suddenly her torture by the state is politically unseemly. General Cartwright is a high priest of the state, and must not be punished for promoting the state’s agenda, as he certainly did in his particular violation of security policy. On the other hand, Machinist Mate Christian Saucier, a sailor who sent a selfie to his wife from a submarine, is going to serve his time. He’s not on anyone’s list.
Many have petitioned Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, who shared a massive trove of information regarding NSA’s active and pervasive wrongdoing, waste, and violation of Constitution and domestic activities.
Revealing his own character, in a style that should be emulated widely, Snowden appealed to Obama through twitter to do the right thing in the Manning case.
Two purposeful leakers of classified data. A commutation for a Private after years of incarceration and arguably torture, and a pardon for a General long before his sentencing. One motivated to do the right thing, the other motivated to make sure he pushed a policy and looked good in a journalist’s book. They say even a broken clock is right twice a day, but I’m going to have to think about that.