With his last minute pardons, commutation of prison sentences and prison releases, Barack Obama is proving to be an equal opportunity president.
While soldiers endangering the nation’s security received a second chance, at least one soldier sentenced for acts protecting his fellow troops was left waiting for his moment.
Two military beneficiaries have been tapped by Obama’s pardoning wand. It has been waved over one in uniform at the lowest rank and one at the highest. Interestingly – both committed crimes that just do not seem, either to Obama or to the Democratic Party, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s email scandal during the presidential campaign – to generate appropriate concerns: our national security.
The sentence commutation of Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning has captured the most media attention. Manning leaked thousands of pages of U.S. Army documents about the Iraq war to WikiLeaks.
Convicted on 20 of 22 charges, Manning was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison. Manning will have served only seven when released later this year.
Drawing far less of media spotlight has been the pardon of a much more senior military officer: retired Marine General James Cartwright, former Vice Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Cartwright’s sin was lying to the FBI about revealing sensitive intelligence to reporters concerning Stuxnet–a joint U.S. and Israeli operation to conduct a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Convicted last year, Cartwright was to be sentenced this month. His conviction raised the ire of conservatives about the administration’s hypocrisy, since no charges were ever brought against Hillary Clinton for much more egregious transgressions in mishandling national security materials.
Lost in all the hype of the Manning commutation and non-hype of Cartwright’s pardon is the case of U.S. Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance. He was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder in Afghanistan for having ordered his patrol to open fire at three passengers on a fast approaching motorcycle.
While testimony was given against Lorance by some of his men in exchange for immunity, there is an indication prosecutorial misconduct may have occurred. Lorance received a twenty-year sentence.
There is a significant difference in impact between the actions of Manning and Lorance as well as in their motivations for undertaking them.
While Manning’s actions supposedly were motivated by a desire to go public with alleged U.S. battlefield atrocities, also suggested by his defense was a personal grudge against the Army due to his gender-identity struggles.
Unfortunately, included within the information Manning released were descriptions of Afghanis working with U.S. forces. This triggered a Taliban witchhunt to identify and kill them. Where Afghan names were not mentioned but descriptions given, such as “someone with short, dark hair was helping,” the Taliban indiscriminately killed anyone meeting that description, according to sources familiar with the cases. Thus, the final tally of lives for which Manning is responsible will never be known.
On the other hand, Lorance’s decision to act was made based on a perceived imminent threat to his patrol. It was motivated by a desire to save their lives. Immunity given to patrol members to testify against him raises the issue of those witness’s motivation. This, and possible prosecutorial misconduct, creates enough of a fact issue to warrant a presidential pardon.
To give Manning a commutation but offer nothing to Lorance is a slap in the face to those in uniform who stand in harm’s way in the defense of their country.
This brings us back to the Cartwright pardon.
While it is unclear what his motivation was in sharing classified information with reporters, doing so enhanced Iranian security measures to ensure it did not happen again. The impact this will ultimately have will be unknown – until Tehran uses a nuclear weapon.
Cartwright obviously was not thinking clearly in revealing the Stuxnet operation to the media. But he also has failed to think clearly before accepting Obama’s pardon.
Half a century earlier, a military prisoner was offered an early release but refused to take it. Shot down during the Vietnam war, U.S. Navy pilot John S. McCain held to a code of conduct that mandated those U.S. prisoners captured earlier have release priority. Not knowing how long his own captivity would last and spending most of it in solitary confinement, McCain repeatedly refused an early release.
This is something upon which General Cartwright should have reflected before accepting his pardon. Remembering the code of conduct to which McCain adhered, Cartwright might well have considered the fact that other veterans, such as Lorance, should be given first consideration. For a very senior military leader not to consider this is somewhat disturbing – and most unfair to men like Lorance.
Obama’s pardons to date – not only of Manning but of numerous criminals and Guantanamo prisoners – have created widespread discontent within the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities. That such clemency was missing in cases like Lorance’s is lamentable.