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Obama Commutes Sentence Of Ex-Army Analyst Chelsea Manning


In one of his final acts as president, President Obama has significantly shortened the prison sentence for Chelsea Manning. She is the Army private convicted of leaking classified information to the website WikiLeaks. In addition, the White House pardoned General James Cartwright in another prominent media-leak case. Over the past eight years, Obama has granted clemency to nearly 1,600 people. With us to talk about some of those cases is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi there, Carrie.


MCEVERS: On NPR a few weeks ago, the lawyer for Chelsea Manning called her case a matter of life or death. What did he mean by that?

JOHNSON: Chelsea Manning's been in prison for about seven years now. She's attempted suicide twice during that time. Her lawyer at the ACLU and her friends say she's been having a really tough time with incarceration. Manning's transgender, and she says she's not getting the support she needs. To the contrary, when she was first locked up, she was put in solitary confinement.

And supporters say that took a real toll on her mental and physical health. Manning had been expecting to serve a 35-year sentence, the longest ever, her lawyers say, for an act of whistleblowing and longer than some people even convicted of murder in the military system. Now with today's action, she could be out by May.

MCEVERS: There's always a flurry of pardons and clemencies as presidents prepare to leave office. Another one in this round is James Cartwright, as we said. Remind us about his case.

JOHNSON: So he's often called Obama's favorite general. Cartwright pleaded guilty late last year to false-statements charges for allegedly leaking information and lying to the FBI about it. He was talking to reporters about the Stuxnet computer worm, Kelly. You'll remember that whole hack attempted to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program.


JOHNSON: But it also spread outside the country and got detected. Prosecutors wanted Cartwright to serve two years in prison. His sentencing was set for later this month. Now it won't happen at all. That's because he's got a full pardon. And Cartwright said in a statement today a pardon means he can continue his work to support his country after being a public servant more than 40 years now.

MCEVERS: Presidential pardons are sometimes controversial - President Ford's pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, for example, Bill Clinton's pardon of the fugitive money man Marc Rich. Besides Chelsea Manning, are there any other names on the list that are likely to raise objections?

JOHNSON: Kelly, with this caveat, I'm still digging through the list. There are over...


JOHNSON: ...Two-hundred people on it. But I found a few other well-known folks - the hotel magnate Ian Schrager, better known for running the famous nightclub Studio 54. He got pardoned on old tax charges dating back decades. I also saw Willie McCovey, a famous baseball player - first baseman. And, finally, there's Oscar Lopez Rivera. He's been described by supporters as a political prisoner, an independence activist from Puerto Rico. He spent 35 years in prison. Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez praised his release today.

MCEVERS: And most of the 200 or so names on today's list are people who have been associated with drug charges, right?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Those offenders have represented the vast majority of President Obama's clemency grants. The idea is those people have had clean records in prison, and they'd be serving less time today for the same crimes because the way we punish drug criminals has changed now. The Obama White House and Justice Department set up a special program for those drug criminals. More than 500 of them who have gotten clemency under Obama had expected to spend the rest of their lives in prison. That won't happen anymore, Kelly.

MCEVERS: And could you just remind us quickly what Chelsea Manning - why Chelsea Manning had been sentenced for so long in prison.

JOHNSON: Well, Chelsea Manning had taken materials from her job and secreted them out of locations overseas and passed them to the website WikiLeaks. They included a lot of military information, State Department cables, a video that she said showed some wrongdoing by U.S. officials in killing innocent civilians. There were a lot of sensitive kinds of things in the reams of information she took and passed the website WikiLeaks. Military officials were very upset back at the time.

MCEVERS: There's still two days left in the Obama administration. Do you think there'll be more to come on the clemency front?

JOHNSON: Well, sources are telling me don't rule anything out - possible that we'll see more clemencies for some of those nonviolent drug offenders before President Obama leaves the White House.

MCEVERS: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thank you.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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