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Greenwald Comments On Obama Granting Clemency To Chelsea Manning


As we've been hearing this morning, President Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning yesterday, commuting her 35-year sentence to the almost seven years already served. Manning, you'll remember, was the former Army private who gave sensitive military and State Department documents over to WikiLeaks. Reporter Glenn Greenwald has been a vocal advocate for Chelsea Manning. He was also instrumental in helping another prominent leaker, Edward Snowden, publicize classified material. Mr. Greenwald is on the line now via Skype from his home in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks so much for being with us.

GLENN GREENWALD: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Manning's release outrageous. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said the commutation is a grave mistake. Why do you believe Chelsea Manning deserved clemency?

GREENWALD: Well, first of all, the key context for what happened was that she volunteered for the Iraq war believing her government's claims about what was taking place in Iraq, only to get there and see a huge range of atrocities. And she believed the American people had the right to know about what the government was actually doing in this war.

Beyond that, she served seven years already in conditions that the U.N. found to be abusive and inhumane. And she had received the largest sentence in history for somebody who leaked to the public as opposed to selling secrets to a foreign government, in contrast to people like David Petraeus, who leaked far more secret information than she did, and he didn't spend a single day in prison. So I think all of the factors militate in favor of this commutation.

MARTIN: Speaking of people who've not served a single day in prison, you have called for Edward Snowden to be pardoned. Do you see these two cases, the Manning and Snowden cases, as similar?

GREENWALD: Very. Both of them joining the U.S. government thinking that the U.S. government's claims about what they were doing in the world were true, only to discover that in fact the government was committing widespread crimes. And like Daniel Ellsberg before them, in good conscience felt that the public had the right to see what was being improperly kept from them. And so when you look at the motive, when you look at the caution that each of them used in terms of which information would be disseminated to the public, I think the cases are extremely similar.

MARTIN: Although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest yesterday said that in the Snowden case the documents that he disclosed were, quote, "far more serious, far more dangerous" than those that Manning leaked, that this was not just low-level diplomatic cables or battlefield reports, that Snowden leaked sources and methods that compromised America's security.

GREENWALD: Right. But a critical distinction that he omitted, given that he's the White House press secretary, is that Snowden didn't just take the documents and release them wholesale to the public. He came to journalists, the most established media outlets in the world - The Guardian, The Washington Post - and asked journalists and editors to be very selective and very meticulous about making sure that the only documents that got released were ones that can be released safely and that would inform the public debate.

And so what Josh Earnest is talking about is the amount of documents Edward Snowden took and gave to journalists. Whatever documents ended up in the public sphere were the ones that journalists and editors at The New York Times and The Guardian and The Post decided were in the public interest to reveal.

MARTIN: It's worth pointing out - Chelsea Manning served time for a crime that she acknowledged. The White House will also point to Edward Snowden and say this is a man who then fled after the disclosure, and is now being holed away in a country that the United States has, to say the least, a very tense relationship with, a country that's been accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

GREENWALD: Right. Well, Edward Snowden looked at what happened to Chelsea Manning. Remember, when Manning was put into prison in Quantico before she had ever been convicted of anything, she was put in solitary confinement. She was humiliated. She was treated to abusive conduct. Why, if you're Edward Snowden, would you submit to that form of abuse from a government that treats whistleblowers in that way? So I think that when you look at what Snowden's conduct was, it won Pulitzer Prizes, it led to legislative reform, and on balance it was a very positive step that he took.

MARTIN: Others would disagree in the military community, in national security circles, we should point out. Glenn Greenwald, founding editor of The Intercept, he joined us from Rio de Janeiro. Thanks so much, Glenn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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