27 January 2017

After Years of Torturing Chelsea Manning, Obama Grants Clemency

On January 17, Barack Obama announced that he was commuting all but the next four months of Chelsea Manning’s remaining sentence, scheduling her release on May 17. We welcome the freeing of this heroic whistle-blower, but we also recognize that this was a cheap and cynical move by Obama to burnish his “legacy.” For the past seven years, the Obama administration has persecuted and tortured Manning, driving her to two suicide attempts. Arrested in 2010, she was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison for leaking to WikiLeaks military documents and diplomatic cables that exposed U.S. war crimes and sinister machinations—an unprecedented sentence for a whistle-blower. Manning is a courageous and self-sacrificing truth-teller who did a service to humanity.

Sadistically, Obama’s Department of Justice had pushed for a 60-year sentence following Manning’s conviction by a military kangaroo court. The day after her conviction, Manning announced that she wanted hormone treatment for gender reassignment. She has since been locked away in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she has been subjected to brutal treatment, isolation and humiliation, and has had to wage one battle after another to continue her transition. Even in commuting Manning’s sentence, Obama set the release date for May, giving the ghouls of the incoming Donald Trump administration four months to continue torturing her.

From the perspective of the working class, the real crime was the prosecution and imprisonment of Manning in the first place—a crime for which Obama has pardoned himself by now ordering her release. The government’s torment of Manning and its continuing witchhunt of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and other whistle-blowers are aimed at silencing those who dare expose or oppose its atrocities and mass surveillance. The Obama administration prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, three times the number prosecuted by all previous administrations combined. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, remains in the Ecuadorean embassy in Britain, the government of which has vowed to arrest him if he steps outside, while National Security Agency whistle-blower Snowden is in exile in Russia. Hands off Assange! Drop all charges against Snowden!

The same day that Obama announced Manning’s commutation, he also commuted the 70-year sentence of Oscar López Rivera, a 74-year-old member of the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation. López Rivera is now set to be released in May after over 30 years behind bars. In 1981, López Rivera was convicted of “seditious conspiracy”—a thought crime—for struggling for the independence of his native Puerto Rico from U.S. colonial occupation. Another 15 years were added on in 1988 for conspiring to escape from prison. A courageous fighter, López Rivera refused President Bill Clinton’s offer of clemency in 1999 out of solidarity with Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres and Carlos Alberto Torres, two of his comrades who were not included in the clemency offer. (Beltrán Torres was released in 2009 and Alberto Torres in 2010.) It is the duty of the U.S. proletariat to stand for Puerto Rico’s right of self-determination.

Presidential pardons and commutations are often issued by the capitalist rulers to bail out their cronies—for example, President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974. Obama has continued that tradition by issuing a full pardon to retired general James Cartwright. In October, Cartwright had pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents investigating a government leak, and he was scheduled to be sentenced this month. In contrast to Manning, this former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the blood-drenched U.S. imperialist military faced a maximum of a $500 fine and six months in prison.

Not on Obama’s list for “mercy” was class-war prisoner and American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier, despite tens of thousands having petitioned for clemency. He is internationally renowned as an unbowed fighter who symbolizes resistance against this country’s racist repression of American Indians, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was convicted of the killing of two FBI agents shot during a 1975 government assault on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota—a crime the Feds know he did not commit. Even a former U.S. attorney who was a central player in Peltier’s frame-up, James Reynolds, joined the call for clemency. Peltier, an innocent man who never should have spent a day in prison, has spent over 40 years in prison and as a result has numerous health problems. As his attorney put it, Obama’s refusal to grant Peltier clemency amounted to “a sentence of death.” Free Peltier now!

As Marxists, we understand that the capitalist state, including its courts, exists to defend the rule and profits of the bourgeoisie. While pursuing all legal means to win freedom for class-war prisoners like Peltier, we put no faith in the “justice” of the courts. We look to the social power of the multiracial working class, which must be mobilized independently of and in opposition to the capitalist state and its political representatives, whether Republican or Democrat.

Obama wants to secure his “legacy,” including through the commutations for Manning and López Rivera. But for the world’s oppressed and working masses, it is war, drone strikes, mass surveillance, repression and economic inequality that define the real legacy of Barack Obama.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1104, 27 January 2017 )

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.