NATIONAL — The former Army private convicted on charges of espionage and theft has written to President Obama and the Army secretary asking for a pardon or reduced sentence over the transfer of secrets to WikiLeaks.
Press freedom organizations, peace advocates and civil libertarians condemned the 35-year prison sentence meted out to Chelsea Manning, who was formerly known as Bradley Manning.
Calling the sentence “a blow against American democracy,” Reporters Without Borders said journalists must be free to report government abuses and any threat of severe sanctions against whistleblowers compromises the media’s capacity to check official power.
Manning exposed US military complicity in the killing of two unarmed Reuters journalists who were among a group of eleven men killed on a Baghdad street. Two children were severely wounded in the helicopter attack because they were in a vehicle used in an apparent rescue attempt after an initial volley of airborne gunfire littered the road with bodies.
Troves of secret diplomatic cables released by the Army private exposed corruption and helped prompt the ‘Arab Spring’ democracy movement across the Middle East.
“Following the targeting of Edward Snowden, the disproportionate sentence for Manning hits hard at whistleblowers and shows how vulnerable they are,” said Reporters Without Borders. “The Army is sending a clear message to them and to all journalists who dare to report whistleblowers’ disclosures: the United States will strike back severely at anyone who uncovers information of public interest concerning the exercise of official powers.”
The group believes Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked details about the agency’s surveillance practices to the Guardian, can expect years of pre-trial detention in conditions of extreme hardship and a trial that lacks fairness because that is what Manning got.
Manning’s sentence represents a new offensive against whistleblowers by the Obama administration and its British counterpart, said Reporters Without Borders.
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