Give credit where due and kudos to Barack Obama for doing the right thing by commuting whistle-blower Chelsea Manning's cruel and unusual prison sentence -- even if he did the right thing more out of political calculus than out of any sense of human empathy.
Maybe some savvy reader can tell me why Chelsea Manning must be imprisoned for four more months: is it really the molasses-like military bureaucracy, or is it because Obama still wants to "send a message" that, just because a president softened up just this once doesn't mean that individuals exposing war crimes and Deep State corruption will be tolerated in the future.
Going over military heads and cutting red tape and freeing her sooner might be a tacit admission that Manning's brutal, excessive punishment -- including being stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement for over a year -- has been tantamount to torture.
Obama is not about to admit any such thing. So it's four more months behind bars for Chelsea Manning, who had the courage and audacity to release information proving that the military lied about war crimes and deliberately conspired to underestimate the number of civilian casualties in the Iraq War. The only things she "endangered" were the reputations and careers of various culprits both in and out of uniform. Tellingly, the helicopter pilots who gratuitously shot and killed a group of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters reporters for no other reason than sadism were never brought to account. They got off on the usual "fog of war" defense.
It's also tempting to suspect that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's offer to turn himself in to US authorities in the event of Manning's commutation was an offer that Obama simply couldn't refuse. If I were Assange, though, I'd wait until Manning is safely out of sight of the prison gates before leaving the always-tenuous safety of his own de facto prison of the Equador embassy in London.
Obama is deservedly famous for being an introspective, calculating kind of guy. So he probably carefully weighed all the pros and the cons of showing a little mercy to Manning. Another factor in his decision likely was not wanting to have the eventual successful suicide of an imprisoned LGBT community member on his hands. And he knew how bad the "optics" would have looked had he let Chelsea Manning rot in prison while pardoning James Cartright, the retired general convicted, but never jailed, for lying to the FBI about leaking classified information to the press. Obama probably weighed the feeble dissenting cackles of war hawks against the raucous, righteous outcry of progressives -- whose votes the Democratic Party desperately needs if it hopes to regain even a small portion of the thousand elected seats that it's lost during the Age of Obama.
And above all, there's his own precious legacy for Obama to worry about. Something good has to counterbalance the fact that he is the only president in history who has been at war every single day of his tenure. As he flits off to the golf course and the hundreds of millions of dollars in book deals and speaking fees, he doesn't want to be simply remembered for never closing Gitmo and for dropping 26,171 bombs on Planet Earth in just the past year alone.
The president's admittedly good deed of commuting Manning's draconian 35-year sentence is still a comparatively feeble gesture, given that it was his administration that ensured in the first place that she would get sentenced to 10 times the incarceration of any other person ever convicted of leaking classified information. It doesn't take away from the fact that the Obama administration prosecuted more whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined.
But thanks, President Obama. The rarer the humanitarian gesture, the more precious it is.