What Chelsea Manning’s Story Tells Us About Justice in the United States

(ANTIMEDIA) In a surprising move by an American president who has used the outdated Espionage Act more than all past presidents combined, Barack Obama commuted the 35-year prison sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning on Tuesday. Manning is now set to be released on May 17 of this year.

Chelsea Manning was prosecuted for leaking vast troves of documents to Wikileaks, including a horrific video aptly dubbed “Collateral Murder,” in which soldiers in a U.S. Apache helicopter opened fire on a number of civilians, including journalists who worked for Reuters.

Although Manning’s reprieve has been highly regarded as great news by journalists and activists alike, her release still raises the issue that she was sentenced and punished in the first place. To date, she has already served approximately seven years. The harsh conditions of her sentence and lack of appropriate medical care drove her to attempt suicide twice in a six-month period. Her original sentence of 35 years was the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak of information. The U.N. torture chief said Manning’s treatment was “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and might have constituted torture.

But what about the perpetrators of the attack in the Collateral Murder video? What kind of sentence did they receive?


Yet according to soldier Ethan McCord, depicted in the Collateral Murder video carrying an injured boy, “what happened then was not an isolated incident. Stuff like that happens on a daily basis in Iraq.”

Despite this glaring admission, Senator John McCain had the confidence to claim Manning’s actions in leaking the material to Wikileaks “endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats, and intelligence sources.” But what about those who actually endangered the lives of others by deliberately shooting them down from an advanced war machine? They, too, endanger American lives; it has been advanced multiple times that the single most effective recruitment tool for radical groups like ISIS is the high number of civilian casualties associated with America’s military ventures across the globe.

Conversely, how many people have been killed as a result of Manning’s leaks to Wikileaks? Can Senator McCain name one?

By comparison, there are countless examples of U.S. personnel committing mass atrocities and receiving no more than a slap on the wrist in response. On March 16, 1968, a platoon of American soldiers entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai. By the end of the day, they had killed between 300 and 507 unarmed and unresisting men, women, and children, none of them apparently enemy forces. The Viet Cong were 150 miles away at the time, meaning the U.S. troops had acted on inaccurate intelligence. Lieutenant William Calley was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison for the attack. In total, however, he ended up serving four and a half months in a military prison before he was acquitted and sent home.

No one else was convicted over the heinous massacre that took place that day. No top officials who may have ordered the attack were prosecuted. The Nixon administration did not face any punishment or trial for the crimes. Calley is still alive and well, walking around as a free man (don’t worry – he did apologize).

In 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped over 26,000 bombs, mostly in countries the United States is not even officially at war with. His covert drone strike program, alone, has killed thousands of civilians, yet he continues to deny the high death toll and, instead, has happily passed this violent legacy onto a bomb-loving, anti-Muslim reality TV star.

Meanwhile, Obama himself is set to make millions off the back of his presidency and live a very comfortable life.

It is incredibly promising to see Manning’s release commuted, but that still doesn’t change the fact Chelsea Manning was punished quite severely for leaking crimes committed by others, who to date have received no criminal sanction. It says something about justice in the United States that a soldier with no blood on her hands can be subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, sentenced to 35 years in prison, and be released after already serving approximately seven years in total, all for leaking documents that have not been shown to endanger anyone. According to Brigadier general Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence official who investigated the effects of Wikileaks’ disclosures on behalf of the Department of Defense, the leaks have caused zero American deaths by enemy combatants.

Yet the American personnel who actively murder civilians can walk around as free men. As stated by Coretta Scott King:

“Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience.”

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