The Hill.com Tuesday evening reported on an interview between Greta Van Susteren and Chase Strangio, an attorney for Chelsea Manning. In the interview, Strangio confided that he felt that President Obama’s commutation of Manning’s sentence may have saved her life. And according to The Hill, he added, “President Obama acted on the side of justice here.”
President Obama’s midnight pardons and commutations have set off a frenzy of reactions on both sides of the political aisle (of which this piece is of course guilty of being). Many on the right have pointed out that Manning’s deliberate leak of classified documents to WikiLeaks almost certainly put United States intelligence assets in danger, if not of torture and death, almost certainly of imprisonment.
That’s not to mention the damage the disclosure of intelligence gathering patterns and techniques does to the American intelligence community’s future effectiveness. And that says nothing still of the costs—in terms of money and time—the leak likely caused American intelligence agencies to incur in securing assets, combing for counter-intelligence, and pulling the plug on all operations endangered by the leak.
Until yesterday, apparently, the Obama administration agreed that Manning’s actions had endangered America and its allies. That was the basis for prosecuting the case.
Reports of the President’s actions by left-leaning media have downplayed these costs and dangers, citing the fact that prosecuting attorneys did not—and by law could not—disclose the types of damage Manning’s leak caused. They highlight the same facts highlighted by Strangio in his interview with Van Susteren: Manning has already been jailed for about seven years (though not officially sentenced until 2013), that’s longer than anyone else has been imprisoned for leaking government secrets, and the documents were classified “secret,” not “top secret” or more restricted.
Back to justice. It’s not an accident justice has classically been depicted as a blindfolded figure holding scales. Western civilization’s classical conception of justice is vividly displayed in the imagery. Justice should blindly weigh the relevant facts without regard to things like character, race, ethnicity, sex, or social standing. The unprejudiced balance of the facts should determine the outcome. Of course this has not always been the true nature of justice in Western or American society, sometimes with tragic impact. But it has undoubtedly been the aspiration.
So let’s load the scales. On the side of continuing Manning’s imprisonment are factors like: she was convicted of felonies after pleading down from more serious felonies, those felonies carry a range of sentences in which her sentence fell, she almost certainly endangered many Americans and American allies’ lives and safety, she cost America valuable time, money, and intelligence resources, and all this apparently simply because she felt the information should be public. On the side of commuting Manning’s sentence are factors highlighted by her attorney: she has already served seven of her 35-year sentence, those seven years exceed the length of time served by other people convicted of leaking secrets, the documents carried a lower classification than they could have, and, apparently, her health and safety were less secure as compared to life outside of prison.
Justice, then, would weigh in favor of continuing her sentence. Except that we forgot to load the commutation side with a few factors: Manning was born as a man named Bradley Manning, Manning has recently begun to identify publicly as the woman Chelsea Manning, she has pursued reassignment treatments and procedures, and in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that homosexual marriage is required by the Constitution, transgenderism is in vogue on the left.
True, these are factors to which justice is supposed to be blind. But this is not the age of justice, it’s the age of social justice.