Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was a soldier in the U.S. army who divulged a massive amount of classified or sensitive military and diplomatic information to WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning was subsequently arrested, charged, and convicted under provisions of the Espionage Act, and then sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted the sentence such that Manning will be released on May 17, 2017. Unfortunately, the notion of an executive power to pardon does not exist in Canada.


Manning was, in the classic sense, a whistleblower, who purportedly hoped that the disclosure of this material would inform the public and provoke a necessary and constructive debate on the merits of the ongoing American military campaign in the Middle East. Indeed, these disclosures showed for instance, in the case of the Baghdad airstrike video (entitled “Collateral Murder”) American soldiers aboard an Apache helicopter firing on a group of unsuspecting men who were mistaken for enemy combatants. Two of them were in fact Reuters journalists. When the strike was over, at least 12 people (including the 2 journalists) had been killed and several wounded, including children. The soldiers’ discussions prior, during, and subsequent to the strike shows their causal and detached attitude towards violent death, and approximates the banter one would expect while playing a video game. While no doubt the military would have happily kept all this secret, the release of this and other information, including torture at the Abu Ghraib prison, did at least spark some informed debate about the war in the Middle East, and compelled the upper military brass to begrudgingly show some accountability. For this, Manning should be lauded.


It is true that it can be argued that releasing classified information can imperil lives. In Manning’s case, there was no empirical evidence to that effect. While government executives, whether civil or military, have shown an insidious preference for shielding the public from the truth, Manning’s actions allowed the public to better understand how its leaders were managing a campaign which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, uprooted communities, and generated the single worst refugee crisis the world has ever seen.


Manning has been jailed for 7 years. The commutation of his sentence speaks of wisdom and humanity, both of which appear absent from the discourse on military strategy in the Middle East.