Manning commutation good for the public

Photo by Sara Schmitt

This past Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence from 35 years to seven from the time she was arrested, meaning she will walk free later this year on May 17.

Now, however you feel about national security or politics, it is paramount to understand that this is fundamentally good for the public on a certain level. The harsh punishment of Manning along with Snowden’s — albeit self-imposed  — exile certainly did nothing to make the already alien prospect of blowing the whistle more attractive. Despite what anyone might lead you to believe, whistleblowers are absolutely necessary to stave off corruption and
entrenched malpractice.

Sure, Obama may not have been happy when Snowden exposed the mass surveillance being conducted by the NSA, but the public is certainly better off for knowing about it. This is only one example, but it illustrates a crucial point: if the public does not know what is going on, there is no way for them to complain.

Lately it seems this is too often the norm. If not for the leaked draft versions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we may never even have heard of it. Initial plans involved not revealing the details of the TPP to the public until the partnership had already been in effect for four years, too long to quickly reverse in the face of likely-anticipated public opposition.

“If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be US policy,” US Senator Elizabeth Warren said regarding the TPP.

The same principle is applied to projects like mass surveillance. Transparency is minimized or eliminated altogether in order to cut the public’s dissent out of the process. Part of the reason for the military ‘s outrage after Manning’s leaks may have been security concerns, but I am confident there was another aspect, one that was linked to a perceived loss of autonomy and recognition that certain activities now might be reined in. If this is indeed Obama’s and others’ basis for keeping state secrets like the ones Manning leaked confidential, democracy is being ignored. As Warren has said, this argument is exactly backwards.

Manning’s commutation matters. Not only because it was morally right, but because it cracks the almost-shut door for more whistleblowers in the future. And they are sorely needed, because all Americans deserve to know what is being done in their name.