At his final press conference Wednesday, President Obama said that Chelsea Manning had taken responsibility for leaking sensitive information, had undergone due process and had been duly punished, so commuting her sentence Tuesday was the right thing to do.
“I feel very comfortable that justice has been served,” Obama said, noting that Manning had received a disproportionate punishment compared to other “leakers.”
The president also took issue with those who might feel that commuting Manning’s sentence would encourage others. “The notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital, classified information would think that it goes unpunished, I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served,” he said.
His action, he said, sends the signal “that wherever possible, we need folks who may have legitimate concerns about the actions of government or their superiors or the agencies in which they work that they try to work through the established channels.”
Obama also noted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s tweeted pledge to agree to extradition to the U.S. “despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case” if the president commuted Manning’s sentence did not influence his decision, saying he didn’t “pay much attention to Mr. Assange’s tweets.”
Assange has apparently backed off of that promise anyway. While WikiLeaks tweeted Wednesday morning that “Assange is still happy to come to the US provided all his rights are guarenteed [sic] despite White House now saying Manning was not quid-quo-pro,” The Hill quoted his lawyer, Barry Pollack, as saying “Mr. Assange welcomes the announcement that Ms. Manning’s sentence will be reduced and she will be released in May, but this is well short of what he sought.”
Assange has spent the last five years living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.