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“Do you know where she is being held now?” That’s exactly the question the news director at the Guardian asked me on the day I left the newspaper more than a decade ago. She had recently made what she said were “a major story” regarding the imprisonment of whistleblower Bradley Manning.
Manning was serving a 35-year sentence at a US Marine base for illegally disclosing classified information to WikiLeaks while working for the US army’s Intelligence and Security Command. He was convicted and subsequently sentenced by a military judge to 35 years in prison with the possibility of life without parole, a severe punishment that has provoked outrage around the world.
Even so, I could tell, as I walked to the Guardian’s offices in central London, this could not be a story we would get to tell. For months now, the US president had attacked the whistleblower as a treasonous traitor who could receive no mercy. On the 11th January, the White House published a letter it has claimed was addressed by President Obama to Manning, offering him a pardon if he “turns himself in to face justice for his actions”.
The president had called Manning a traitor, who had committed acts of “a breathtaking and stunning nature” under the flag of protecting information. It was, said the president, a “moral outrage” and an “act of treason”. In its letter, the White House said its action was designed not only to allow Manning to receive “the dignity he so richly deserves” but also to help the US and its allies “to deter those who would do us harm”.
The letter, a response released on 12 January, had been a last-ditch attempt by the Obama administration to try to save his presidency. But it was not enough.
In an interview with The Guardian that day, Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, responded to the president’s letter as follows: “It makes me sad to see the President of the United States take the position that the only way to punish Bradley Manning for his crimes is to pardon him. Bradley Manning has served the government for seven years … He should not be punished for crimes of seven years ago.”
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