National Security & Defense

The Corner

Chelsea Manning’s Release Is Nothing to Celebrate

Our nation can’t be so obsessed with Trump that it misses one of the last poisonous acts of the Obama administration — yesterday’s formal release of Chelsea Manning (Bradley Manning legally changed his name to Chelsea in 2014). The man broke faith with his brothers-in-arms, broke faith with his country, and put lives at risk. Yet he has the gall today to go on a Twitter and Instagram spree (complete with posed pictures) celebrating his unearned liberty. Oh, and he’s still being applauded by the likes of Amnesty International and others as some sort of heroic “whistleblower.”

But let’s pause for a moment and remember what he actually did. Here’s what I wrote in January, shortly after Obama commuted his sentence:

Bradley Manning was no ordinary “leaker.” When he dumped hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic secrets into the public domain, he violated every single tenet of the warrior ethos. He abandoned the mission. He “accepted” defeat and, through his data dumps, worked to facilitate it. He quit on his comrades, acting with utter, callous disregard for their lives. His message to his unit and to his nation was clear: He would disobey lawful orders and risk killing his comrades to, in his words, stimulate “worldwide discussions, debates, and reforms.”

And don’t believe anyone who says his actions were harmless. He put massive amounts of sensitive information into the public domain, including information that could teach the enemy exactly how we plan, equip, and execute missions both routine and extraordinary. In the face of this level of betrayal, strict military discipline is essential:

Commanders have a sacred obligation to protect their soldiers. It’s a matter of maintaining a bond with the men and women they lead. There can be no tolerance of true betrayal, and the military — to its credit — sought a severe sentence for Manning, attempting to make the punishment fit his crime. It fought for life imprisonment, and ultimately obtained a 35-year sentence that itself was an act of unreasonable mercy.

But Obama never did truly understand military culture:

When Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence . . . he signaled once again that, even after eight long years as commander-in-chief, he simply does not understand the essence of military leadership or the core of military culture. By minimizing Manning’s crimes, he violated his own obligation to men and women in uniform. It was his job to enforce the lawful military norms that have been forged through centuries of bitter battlefield experience. Instead, he violated those norms, ensuring that Manning will serve no more time than men convicted of far more mundane crimes.

There is nothing to celebrate in Chelsea Manning’s release. Instead, there’s reason to mourn the loss of honor and integrity that leads tens of thousands to celebrate a man who betrayed his own country. Manning should be in prison for the rest of his life, not toasting himself on Twitter.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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