No­to­ri­ous de­fen­dants seek­ing mercy from Obama

Clemency im­plored for Bergdahl, Snowden

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

Pres­sure is mount­ing on Pres­i­dent Obama to grant eleventh-hour mercy in the high-pro­file na­tional se­cu­rity cases of ac­cused Army de­serter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, ex­iled NSA whistle­blower Ed­ward Snowden and trans­gen­der mil­i­tary se­crets leaker Chelsea Man­ning.

Lawyers for Sgt. Bergdahl and Man­ning have writ­ten to Mr. Obama in re­cent days re­quest­ing clemency, while a celebrity-stud­ded group in­clud­ing lib­eral bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros is push­ing for an un­likely pres­i­den­tial par­don for Mr. Snowden.

While it’s com­mon for lame-duck pres­i­dents to re­ceive a flood of clemency re­quests be­fore their term ex­pires, the pleas in these no­to­ri­ous cases are land­ing on the desk of a pres­i­dent who has set a record for le­niency with more than 1,000 com­mu­ta­tions, ex­ceed­ing the pre­vi­ous 11 pres­i­dents com­bined. The vast ma­jor­ity of Mr. Obama’s com­mu­ta­tions have been granted in drug cases as the pres­i­dent seeks a mea­sure of uni­lat­eral crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

Op­po­nents of the lat­est pe­ti­tions say grant­ing a

par­don to Sgt. Bergdahl would send an es­pe­cially bad sig­nal as he faces a court­mar­tial in May.

“Bowe Bergdahl’s de­ci­sion to aban­don his post in a com­bat zone dur­ing the height of the Afghan in­sur­gency was a clear vi­o­la­tion of the Uni­formed Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice,” Rep. Mike Coff­man, Colorado Repub­li­can and a Ma­rine Corps vet­eran, wrote to the White House. “His ac­tions must be judged by the pend­ing court-mar­tial.”

Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Repub­li­can and an Air Force vet­eran, said the mas­sive search for Sgt. Bergdahl in Afghanistan in 2009 may have led to the deaths of sev­eral Amer­i­can sol­diers.

“It has been seven years since Sgt. Bergdahl chose to aban­don his fel­low sol­diers in Afghanistan dur­ing a time of war,” Mr. Buchanan said Tues­day. “He should be court-mar­tialed and held ac­count­able.”

Sgt. Bergdahl’s at­tor­ney, Eu­gene Fidell, de­clined to com­ment Wed­nes­day. He said pre­vi­ously if the case is still pend­ing on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, Jan. 20, he will file a mo­tion for dis­missal, as­sert­ing that com­ments by Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump would make a fair trial im­pos­si­ble af­ter he be­comes com­man­der in chief.

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump called Sgt. Bergdahl a “dirty, rot­ten traitor” and crit­i­cized Mr. Obama’s five-for-one pris­oner swap with the Tal­iban to se­cure the re­lease of the Amer­i­can sol­dier who had been held as a pris­oner of war for five years.

But the Obama White House also has been ac­cused of tak­ing sides in the case. Upon Sgt. Bergdahl’s re­lease, Mr. Obama hosted his par­ents in a cel­e­bra­tory Rose Gar­den event at the White House, and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san E. Rice said Sgt. Bergdahl served his coun­try with “honor and dis­tinc­tion.”

Su­san Hen­nessey, a spe­cial­ist on na­tional se­cu­rity at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, said it’s “en­tirely pos­si­ble” that Mr. Obama will par­don Sgt. Bergdahl.

“Many peo­ple, in­clud­ing those on Obama’s na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil, be­lieved the ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der­es­ti­mated and mis­man­aged the po­lit­i­cal re­sponse to Bergdahl’s res­cue,” she said. “If Obama agrees that Bergdahl has been un­fairly prej­u­diced be­cause his com­plex case was politi­cized by Obama’s op­po­nents, he may feel in­clined to is­sue a par­don.”

Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with de­ser­tion and mis­be­hav­ior be­fore the enemy, and could face up to life in prison. The Army gen­eral who in­ves­ti­gated his dis­ap­pear­ance from an out­post in east­ern Afghanistan in June 2009 rec­om­mended that Sgt. Bergdahl not re­ceive jail time.

Some le­gal ob­servers be­lieve there is also a good chance of clemency for Man­ning, the for­mer Army an­a­lyst who is serv­ing 35 years in prison for leak­ing thou­sands of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments to WikiLeaks re­lated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Man­ning, who was born a male named Bradley, asked Mr. Obama for clemency in a let­ter cit­ing harsh treat­ment in jail, which she said led to sui­cide at­tempts.

“I need help and I am still not get­ting it,” Man­ning wrote to the pres­i­dent. “I am liv­ing through a cy­cle of anxiety, anger, hope­less­ness, loss, and de­pres­sion. I can­not fo­cus. I can­not sleep. I at­tempted to take my own life.”

She said that she at­tempted sui­cide a sec­ond time in soli­tary con­fine­ment be­cause “the feel­ing of hope­less­ness was so im­mense.”

“This has served as a re­minder to me that any lack of treat­ment can kill me, so I must keep fight­ing a battle that I wish ev­ery day would just end,” Man­ning said.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and a coali­tion of gay rights groups have asked Mr. Obama to com­mute Man­ning’s sen­tence to the seven years she has al­ready served in prison.

“If ap­proved, Ms. Man­ning will have a first chance to live a real, mean­ing­ful life as the per­son she was born to be,” they wrote, adding that Man­ning is “be­ing forced to serve out her sen­tence in an all-male prison.”

“The Army even op­posed her re­quest to use her le­gal name and to be re­ferred to by fe­male pro­nouns,” their let­ter stated. “While the armed forces have fi­nally opened the door to trans­gen­der men and women who wish to serve, the govern­ment has con­tin­u­ally fought Ms. Man­ning’s ef­forts to be treated with ba­sic dig­nity.”

Ms. Hen­nessey said many in the na­tional se­cu­rity com­mu­nity view Man­ning’s sen­tence as “ex­ces­sive.”

As for Mr. Snowden, who is charged with vi­o­lat­ing the Es­pi­onage Act by steal­ing clas­si­fied doc­u­ments and ex­pos­ing U.S. sur­veil­lance pro­grams, Mr. Obama has said re­peat­edly that he won’t is­sue a par­don.

“I can’t par­don some­body who hasn’t gone be­fore a court and pre­sented them­selves, so that’s not some­thing that I would com­ment on at this point,” Mr. Obama told a Ger­man news­pa­per last month.

The pres­i­dent, a for­mer con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor, ac­tu­ally was in­cor­rect in that assess­ment. He could is­sue a par­don in Mr. Snowden’s case at any time.

A Supreme Court rul­ing in an 1886 case held that pres­i­den­tial par­don power “ex­tends to ev­ery offense known to the law, and may be ex­er­cised at any time af­ter its com­mis­sion, ei­ther be­fore le­gal pro­ceed­ings are taken or dur­ing their pen­dency, or af­ter con­vic­tion and judg­ment.”

A group of prom­i­nent Amer­i­cans has been ad­vo­cat­ing for a par­don for Mr. Snowden, call­ing him “a hero” whose ac­tions re­sulted in the curb­ing of the NSA’s sur­veil­lance pow­ers.

“Ed stood up for us, and it’s time for us to stand up for him,” the group said on its web­site, Par­donSnow­den.org. The group in­cludes sup­port­ers such as Ap­ple co-founder Steve Woz­niak, for­mer CIA op­er­a­tive Valerie Plame, ac­tor Danny Glover, ACLU ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor An­thony Romero, writer Joyce Carol Oates and Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The White House re­sponded to an on­line pe­ti­tion seek­ing a par­don for Snowden in 2013. Pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Lisa Monaco said Mr. Snowden should have en­gaged in “con­struc­tive” protest and ac­cepted “the con­se­quences of his ac­tions.”

“Snowden’s dan­ger­ous de­ci­sion to steal and dis­close clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion had se­vere con­se­quences for the se­cu­rity of our coun­try and the peo­ple who work day in and day out to pro­tect it,” she said at the time.

Mr. Snowden has been liv­ing in ex­ile in Rus­sia.

“He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide be­hind the cover of an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime,” Ms. Monaco said. “Right now, he’s run­ning away from the con­se­quences of his ac­tions.”

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