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Obama Grants Clemency, Pardons         01/18 06:24

   Embracing his clemency powers like never before, President Barack Obama is 
planning more commutations in his final days in office after a dramatic move to 
cut short convicted leaker Chelsea Manning's sentence.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Embracing his clemency powers like never before, 
President Barack Obama is planning more commutations in his final days in 
office after a dramatic move to cut short convicted leaker Chelsea Manning's 
sentence.

   Obama became the president to have granted more commutations than any other 
when he announced Tuesday that Manning will be freed in May, almost 30 years 
ahead of schedule. Manning, the transgender Army intelligence officer who 
leaked more than 700,000 U.S. documents, was one of 273 people receiving 
clemency on a single day.

   Receiving pardons from the president were retired Gen. James Cartwright, who 
was charged with making false statements during another leak probe, and San 
Francisco Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, sentenced in 1996 on tax evasion 
charges. Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera's 55-year sentence was 
commuted.

   But Obama is not finished. The White House said Obama would grant more 
commutations Thursday --- the day before his presidency ends --- though 
officials said those would focus on drug offenders and would not likely include 
any other famous names.

   Neil Eggleston, Obama's White House counsel, said the individuals were 
learning "that our nation is a forgiving nation, where hard work and a 
commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from 
the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward."

   The actions are permanent, and cannot be undone by President-elect Donald 
Trump.

   With his last-minute clemency for Manning and Cartwright, Obama appeared to 
be softening what has been a hard-line approach to prosecuting leakers.

   Manning has been serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified 
government and military documents to WikiLeaks, along with some battlefield 
video. She was convicted in military court of violating the Espionage Act and 
other offenses and spent more than six years behind bars. She asked Obama last 
November to commute her sentence to time served.

   Her case has pitted LGBT rights activists, who warned about her mental 
health and treatment as a transgender woman living in a men's prison, against 
national security hawks who said she did devastating damage to U.S. interests. 
The former cheered Obama's move, while the latter called it an outrageous act 
that set a dangerous precedent.

   Obama did not grant a pardon to another prominent leaker, former National 
Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whom the U.S. has been unable to 
extradite from Russia. Snowden hasn't formally applied for clemency, though his 
supporters have called for it. Yet the White House drew a distinction between 
the unapologetic Snowden and Manning, whom officials noted has expressed 
remorse and served several years already for her crime.

   Known as Bradley Manning at the time of her 2010 arrest, Manning came out as 
transgender after being sentenced. She was held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 
where she attempted suicide twice last year, according to her lawyers. Manning 
has acknowledged leaking the documents, but has said she did it to raise public 
awareness about the effects of war on civilians.

   "We are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison 
a free woman," said Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney 
representing Manning, adding that Obama's action could "quite literally save 
Chelsea's life."

   House Speaker Paul Ryan called the move "just outrageous," and added, 
"Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our 
nation's most sensitive secrets."

   Manning, Lopez and many of the others will be released in May, in line with 
standard procedure allowing a period for re-entry. Obama also pardoned hotelier 
Ian Schrager, who was sentenced in 1980 to 20 months for tax evasion.

   Commutations reduce sentences being served, but don't erase convictions. 
Pardons generally restore civil rights, such as voting, often after a sentence 
has been served.

   Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had 
pleaded guilty in October to making false statements during an investigation 
into a leak of classified information about a covert cyberattack on Iran's 
nuclear facilities. Prosecutors said Cartwright falsely told investigators that 
he did not provide information contained in a news article and in a book by New 
York Times journalist David Sanger, and said he also misled prosecutors about 
classified information shared with another journalist, Daniel Klaidman.

   The Justice Department sought a sentence of two years, saying employees of 
the U.S. government are entrusted each day with sensitive classified 
information.

   Puerto Ricans had long demanded the release of Lopez, who was sentenced to 
55 years in prison for his role in a violent struggle for independence for the 
U.S. island territory. Lopez had belonged to the ultranationalist Armed Forces 
of National Liberation, which has claimed responsibility for more than 100 
bombings at public and commercial buildings in U.S. cities during the 1970s and 
1980s.

   The White House noted that absent a commutation, the 74-year-old Lopez 
likely would have died in prison.

   Obama's commutation for Manning also raised fresh questions about the future 
of another figure involved in the Army leaker's case: Julian Assange.

   WikiLeaks had earlier pledged, via tweet, that its founder would agree to 
U.S. extradition if Obama granted clemency to Manning. Holed up for more than 
four years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange has refused to meet 
prosecutors in Sweden, where he's wanted on a rape allegation, fearing he would 
be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy.

   But the Justice Department has never announced any indictment of Assange. 
WikiLeaks lawyer Melinda Taylor said U.S. and British authorities refuse to say 
whether the U.S. has requested extradition. Though she praised the commutation 
for Manning, Taylor made no mention of Assange's earlier promise to agree to 
extradition.

   White House officials said neither Assange's fate nor separate concerns 
about WikiLeaks' role in Russian hacking of the election factored into the 
decision to commute Manning's sentence. The officials briefed reporters on 
condition of anonymity.


(KA)

 
 
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