On Tuesday, President Obama announced he would commute the sentence of soldier Chelsea Manning, who has been serving time in a military prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks.
As punishment for the leaks, a court martial handed Manning a 35-year sentence, which meant she was to leave prison in 2045. But as a result of Obama’s commutation—which is not the same as a pardon—she will now be free on May 17th instead.
News of the announcement, which came on a day Obama granted 209 commutations plus 64 outright pardons, quickly spread on the Internet. Some reporters explained the President’s reason for the decision and its significance:
The news was celebrated by Wikileaks, the controversial organization that published the documents by Manning, and which has more recently been accused of being under the sway of the Russian government:
Manning’s coming release was also hailed by many on Twitter who felt her sentence was unduly harsh, and who regard her as a hero who helped expose misdeeds by the U.S. military:
The decision to commute Manning was not popular with everyone, however. Republican Senator John McCain (R-Az) issued a statement that called it a “grave mistake” and said her actions undermined real whistle-blowers who use proper channels to hold the government accountable. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wi) went further and called Manning’s actions “treachery.”
Meanwhile, the conservative activist Ann Coulter questioned whether the fact Manning is a transgender woman in an all-male prison—a plight that contributed to her multiple suicide attempts—played an undue role in the decision to free her.
Finally, Obama’s decision to commute Manning led to a flurry of comments on what it meant for Edward Snowden, another famous leaker who is currently in exile in Russia. Snowden, a former NSA worker who released top secret intelligent briefings, praised the President on Twitter:
Many people expressed dismay that Obama did not also extend clemency to Snowden, who has received support in the form of a sympathetic Oliver Stone movie, and a large scale pardon campaign.
But a White House spokesperson on Tuesday said there is a “pretty stark difference” between the two case, noting that Manning expressed remorse and chose to face justice, while Snowden fled into the arms of a U.S. adversary. Meanwhile, well-respected national security lawyer, Susan Hennessey, who had argued for Manning’s commutation, pointed out that Snowden hadn’t even bothered to apply for a pardon in the first place: