Paul Ryan is quite upset these days—Chelsea Manning has had her sentence commuted by President Obama and will, in May, be a free woman.
In case you’ve forgotten the story, Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning before transitioning to a woman) leaked documents revealing American military and diplomatic activities across the world, giving global prominence to WikiLeaks and disrupting the Obama administration.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan called commuting the sentence outrageous, claiming that President Obama has created a dangerous precedent, to wit, those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes. If Speaker Ryan had been anywhere near so angry when learning that the Russians has compromised the American electoral process, his outrage would not be quite so ludicrous.
The facts in the Manning case are striking. Her 35-year prison sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction. (Usually it’s one to three.) And when we consider that none of the disclosed documents were classified above the merely “secret” level, it’s clear that her sentence was more the result of Obama administration hysteria than of justice served. Her “crime” (1) exposed abuses of detainees by Iraqi military officers under American control and (2) showed that civilian deaths in the Iraq war were probably much higher than official estimates. Prosecutors in her trial were unable to link her activity to a single American death, though I will concede that was a lucky happenstance. She is not guiltless.
Analogies have been drawn between Manning and Edward Snowden, but the differences are stark. Manning stood trial, confessed, and accepted the punishment. Snowden, whose leaks were much more dangerous, slunk away and remains sequestered in Russia, a country openly bent on undermining confidence in our democracy.
There’s another factor too: Manning, who still suffers from sexual dysphoria, had exhibited such bizarre behavior before the trial that he probably should not have been tried in the first place; but with bin Laden still on he loose, anything that remotely hinted at benefits to al-Qaeda was viewed as treasonous.
It’s a free country with free speech: Paul Ryan has the right to be as outraged as he wants to be…and to say so. But unless he holds the man he supported for president to the same standards as a former low-level intelligence analyst, his outrage will make him even more laughable than when Trump outflanked him and played him with such frightening perfection last summer. He has never regained his credibility, but he might—if he’d simply stop reminding us that he has none.