One of Barack Obama’s last acts as US president – to commute the sentence of Wikileaker Chelsea Manning – has proved predictably divisive.
For those self-identifying as liberal-left, Manning, who, in her earlier incarnation as a US Army intelligence analyst called Bradley, passed thousands of low-level military and diplomatic documents over to Julian Assange and the Wikileaks crew, has always been a near saintly figure. A 2012 book on pre-female Manning was even called The Passion of Bradley Manning. Presumably because he sacrificed himself to save us from our hawkish neo-conservative sins. Or something.
So Obama’s decision to bring forward Manning’s release date from 2045 to this May was greeted by liberals and lefties with tears of joy. For them, a virtuous act has now been recognised for what it is. ‘If you’re the kind of person who thinks it is sinful and wicked to know what your government is doing’, ran one left-wing paean to Manning, ‘by all means, take a pass on this plea for clemency. But if you can see the dystopian levels of Washington’s state secrecy have done too much damage to the world, now is the time to take five minutes to raise a voice for Chelsea Manning.’ Another piece praised Manning’s ‘noble motive’, while a Guardian tribute suggested that Manning bravely brought ‘the world’s elites’ to account. Praise be to Manning.
However, for those self-identifying as right-ish, alt or otherwise, Manning’s early release is not an occasion for cheering. She’s not seen as heroic, or even a ‘whistleblower’. She’s seen as a traitor, a criminal, with some even bemoaning the leniency of her original sentence and pointing out that she should have been executed. Donald Trump’s team simply expressed ‘unease’ about Obama’s decision to commute the sentence, noting that she was ‘convicted of espionage and sentenced to spend 35 years in jail’.
When it comes to leaking, however, hypocrisy and double standards abound. Trump and his team, and the rest of the right-wing pundit-sphere, may have disapproved of Manning’s Wikileakiness, but when the leaking’s on the other foot, they lap up every confidential, private detail dumped into the public sphere. So, during the presidential election campaign, Trump’s response to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails was celebratory, not condemnatory. ‘I love Wikileaks’, he said during one presidential debate. Prior to that he had even called on hackers to release more deleted emails from Clinton’s private server if they had them.