President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of a pair of high-profile military prisoners and pardoned a controversial former Marine Corps general on Tuesday as one of his last acts before leaving the Oval Office.
Among the 209 commutations and 64 pardons announced by the White House were Chelsea Manning, serving 35 years for leaked sensitive Army documents related to the Iraq War; Dwight Loving, a soldier on death row convicted of murder in 1988, and James Cartwright, convicted of lying to the FBI about the release of sensitive intelligence information to reporters five years ago.
Cartwright received a pardon, effectively erasing the crime from his record. Manning, who has served seven years of a 35-year sentence, will be released in May.
Loving had his sentence reassigned to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
All of the 273 decisions were announced without further explanation from the White House. The majority of the decisions were for lower-level drug offenses, an issue that has been among Obama’s top executive actions in recent years.
Manning’s case had been among the most closely watched as Obama’s time in office grew shorter, with advocates pushing for her release. She has attempted suicide several times in the last year, and her imprisonment has raised problematic questions about the military’s responsibilities to deal with her requests for gender reassignment surgery.
Manning, an Army intelligence analyst known as Bradley Manning at the time of her 2010 arrest, made public hundreds of thousands of military documents, including military reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world.
She admitted to the crime and was sentenced without a plea deal. In the intervening years, she and her advocates have pressed Obama for leniency, noting that investigators found no evidence the leaks put lives in danger.
The news on Manning received an immediate reaction on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Obama's action, "a slap in the face to all those who served honorably."
"I think it's outrageous," Graham said. "Spc. Manning stabbed fellow service members in the back by releasing classified information to Wikileaks. It compromised their safety."
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., also condemned the commutation of Manning's sentence.
"I think it's so inappropriate to pardon someone who put the lives of other men and women in uniform in danger," McCain said. "I'm stunned."
House Armed Services Committee chair Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, made the following statement on Manning: "Inmate Manning was convicted of multiple acts of espionage against the United States and other serious military misconduct. These actions potentially put our country and fellow soldiers at serious risk. The President's commutation of Manning's sentence sends a terrible message to the world that the penalties for damaging our security can be swayed by politics."
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright salutes during the playing of the national anthem at a farewell tribute ceremony in his honor on Aug. 3, 2011, at Marine Barracks Washington.
Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey/Air Force
Cartwright was similarly accused of mishandling classified information to reporters about covert cyberattacks on Iran's nuclear facilities. He admitted to the leak and to lying to FBI investigators, and was due to be sentenced later this month. He could have faced up to five years in prison.
Instead, the presidential pardon will remove the threat of jail time for him.
Loving was a soldier stationed at Texas’ Fort Hood Army base in 1988 when he robbed two convenience stores and murdered two taxi drivers during a crime spree.
Only six men are on military’s death row, including Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. The military has not executed any prisoners since 1961.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Defense News reporter Joe Gould contributed to this report.