On January 17th outgoing President Obama, under powers granted him by Article II, section 2 of the Constitution, commuted the sentences and granted pardons to different individuals, most of whom were jailed for drug offenses under federal laws. From 2009 to 2016, Obama signed 209 commutations and 64 pardons, including pardoning retired General James Cartwright, who was charged with making false statements during a probe into the disclosure of classified information and also during an investigation into a leak of classified information about a cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. There were two commutations, however, that have raised eyebrows.
Chelsea Elizabeth Manning’s 35-year sentence was commuted after serving 6 years at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Manning was born Bradley Edward Manning on Dec 17, 1987. Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses after disclosing some 750,000 military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks. He/she was charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy, a charge that could have resulted in the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors presented evidence that Manning’s disclosures severely damaged the U.S. military relationships with foreign governments and Afghan villagers. In addition, Taliban and Al-Qaeda “intelligence” officers scrutinized the leaked documents, and although they might be crazy, are not stupid. They were able to deduce the identities of translators, informants, and anyone else who had cooperated with any of the Western Powers involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What the number of human lives the disclosures eventually cost remains unknown. Regardless of the consequences, military, diplomatic and human, President Obama considered that 6 years served in Leavenworth were punishment enough.
The other controversial commutation was that of Oscar Lopez Rivera. The 74-year old Lopez Rivera was sentenced to 55 years in 1981 for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. In 1988 he was sentenced to an additional 15 years for attempted escape. Oscar Lopez Rivera was born January 6th 1943 in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico. He was a prominent member of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Puertorriquena), a Marxist-Leninist organization dedicated to transform Puerto Rico into a communist state in the 1970s. The FALN was involved into more than 100 bombings in New York, Chicago and other cities. The 1974 bombing of Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan killed 4 people and it led to the establishment of the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) in 1980.
When arrested, Lopez Rivera and others declared themselves combatants in an anti-colonial war against the U.S. to liberate Puerto Rico, admitted to having committed every act he was charged with and during the closing arguments declared that “Puerto Rico will be a free and socialist society”. He was sentenced to 55 years at the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois as an “incorrigible law violator” and sent to Fort Leavenworth.
In 1999, then President Clinton offered clemency to Lopez Rivera and other convicted FALN members, under the condition that they renounce the use or threats of violence, in writing. Lopez Rivera rejected the offer because of the condition to renounce the use of terrorism.
The glaring exception to the list of pardons is General David Petraeus whose service record includes:
– Director of the CIA (2011-2012)
– Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (2010-2011)
– Commander of the U.S. Central Command (2008-2010)
– Length of military service (1974-2011)
In 2015 the FBI and the Justice department recommended bringing felony charges against Petraeus for providing classified information to his then mistress Paula Broadwell and storing documents marked “Confidential” in an unsecured desk drawer. He was reduced in rank to Lieutenant General. A federal judge sentenced him to 2 years probation and a fine of $100,000. The fine was more than double the amount the Justice Department had requested. “Confidential” is the lowest form of classification, way below the “Top Secret” classification of the documents found in Hillary Clinton’s unsecured server.
Commutations reduce sentences but do not erase convictions; pardons restore civil rights, and the President was within his prerogatives when he issued pardons and commutations as he saw fit. It is unfortunate that on his last days as President, Mr Obama, true to form, continued his policy of softness towards the enemies of the U.S. while being severe towards our allies and people who have served the country faithfully and loyally.