Chelsea Manning's redemption proves how far WikiLeaks has fallen
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Some of the harshest criticism of President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse Trump records robo-call for Gillespie: He'll help 'make America great again' MORE’s decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence is related to the organization Manning chose to publish her revelations: WikiLeaks.

After all, WikiLeaks was named specifically in this month’s intelligence community document outlining evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The document concluded that Russian intelligence agencies had likely relayed the information they hacked from Democrat servers and email accounts to WikiLeaks for publication.

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How, the critics argued, could Obama expect people to take WikiLeaks’ meddling seriously as a security threat to America at the same time as he released its most famous source?

 

There are several answers to that question.

The first is that the WikiLeaks that released Manning’s documents in 2010 is not the same WikiLeaks that rose to new infamy in 2016. The former worked with reputable journalistic outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian to bring to light Manning’s revelations about civilian deaths and detainee abuses during the Iraq war.

The latter has largely shunned Western media in favour of Kremlin mouthpieces such as RT and the occasional interview with sycophants such as Sean Hannity.

The Manning-era WikiLeaks held to the philosophy that “information wants to be free,” publishing reams of unfiltered information en masse, including 250,000 diplomatic cables from the Manning leak.

The 2016 WikiLeaks published only information that was damaging to one presidential campaign — Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE’s. It claimed that it didn’t publish damaging information about then-Republican candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE because it didn’t have any.

But it also released leaks from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta selectively, a few thousand at a time in the days leading up to the election, in a way that guaranteed they would dominate news cycles for days on end as the American electorate decided how to vote.

In an ironic twist earlier this month, the WikiLeaks Twitter account also attacked the CIA for leaking information to NBC, which suggests its new position is that only some information wants to be free.

Manning claimed she leaked information because she wanted to prompt “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.”

WikiLeaks in 2016, to all appearances, wanted to interfere in a fundamental element of American democracy: the election of its leader by its people.

According to former WikiLeaks staffers, the organization has shrunk since its leader, Julian Assange, took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, to the point where “there probably isn’t a staff to speak of.” For all intents and purposes, Assange is WikiLeaks. As such, commuting Manning’s sentence in no way equates to giving Assange a pass.

Manning’s revelations were serious. While some of her disclosures about U.S. practices in Iraq sparked an important and necessary public debate, thousands of others served no public interest, put lives at risk (although there is no evidence anyone has died as a result) and damaged U.S. diplomatic relations.

But Manning accepted the consequences of her actions and agreed to face the justice system. She was court-martialed, confessed and apologized. And she spent nearly seven years in prison – years that were uniquely harrowing for a trans woman serving in a men’s prison with only limited support to complete her transition, or to come to grips with the psychological effects of gender dysphoria.

Assange, meanwhile, has chosen to stay holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy rather than face rape charges in Sweden. While the U.S. opened an investigation into WikiLeaks, it has yet to charge him with anything.

He implies that he would face a harsh sentence, or even assassination, if he were extradited to the U.S., but he hasn’t dared to find out. And he has never expressed anything approaching remorse for any of WikiLeaks’ actions.

Commuting Manning’s sentence was a humane and reasonable decision. It doesn’t pardon her serious crimes, but allows for a more proportionate sentence for a repentant leaker.

It is a reflection of the specific choices and circumstances of Chelsea Manning, who happened to turn to WikiLeaks in 2010. There is no hypocrisy in showing her mercy for that action while continuing to condemn WikiLeaks and Assange for all the harm they have done since.

Stephanie MacLellan is a research associate with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, specializing in Internet governance and cybersecurity. She spent more than a decade working as an editor and reporter for newspapers such as the Toronto Star, The Hamilton Spectator and The Slovak Spectator.


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