Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Spot the Difference

Obama granted Manning a pardon but Snowden won't be getting the same

It appears that Obama could grant a pardon for Snowden, but all indications are that he won’t.

LAST NIGHT, THE news emerged that Chelsea Manning has had her prison sentence commuted from 35 years to just seven, in one of Barack Obama’s final acts as US President.

Having served a considerable amount of time in prison already, the reduced sentence means that Manning – who was known as Bradley Manning at the time of her 2010 arrest – is now due for release as early as 17 May this year.

Manning was jailed for leaking classified government and military documents to the website WikiLeaks.

chelsea manning US Army via AP, File US Army via AP, File

Of the around half a million documents leaked by Manning, one of the most famous was the “Collateral Murder” video which showed a US Apache helicopter in Iraq firing on a group of people that included journalists from Reuters.

Manning was convicted of 17 charges, including espionage and theft. Campaigners criticised his 35 year sentence as unduly severe, and groups such as Amnesty International have called for Manning’s release in the past.


Unlike Manning, Edward Snowden fled the US before disclosing information about mass surveillance programmes to the press.

After spending a period stuck in a Moscow airport – and failing to turn up for a flight to Cuba – he was granted residency in Russia. Yesterday, it emerged that Russian authorities had extended this leave to remain in the country for another two years.

Snowden faces charges of theft and espionage from US Authorities, after he revealed that the National Security Agency collects the phone records and internet data of Americans, and around the world.

Hong Kong NSA Surveillance Kin Cheung AP / Press Association Images Kin Cheung AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Critics of Snowden said that the information that he leaked was being “lapped up” by terrorist organisations.

Barack Obama has been particularly strong on the issue of Snowden.

In 2014, he said that the way the information was disclosed “shed more heat than light” and said that the America’s defense depended upon the trust of people who are entrusted with the nation’s secrets.

He added:

If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.

While Obama has spoken negatively about Snowden, what his successor Donald Trump has said about the whistleblower took on a sinister tone.

In 2013, he told the Fox channel:

I think Snowden is a terrible threat, I think he’s a terrible traitor, and you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country — you know what we used to do to traitors, right?

An unlikely pardon

As far as the White House is concerned, it’s an open and shut case in terms of a pardon for Snowden.

For the Obama administration, it simply cannot be done.

In a November interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, Obama said: “I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something I would comment on at this point.

“At the point at which Mr Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play.”

Obama NSA Surveillance Carolyn Kaster AP / Press Association Images Carolyn Kaster AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Yesterday, the White House told CNN that Snowden had not sued for clemency and therefore no pardon could be granted.

The first reason given by Obama, however, has historical precedent against it.

The most famous example is that of Richard Nixon. He resigned following the Watergate scandal, but his successor Gerald Ford chose to pardon Nixon before he had been indicted of any crime.

In the case of Ford, a Federal District court ruled that his unconditional pardon of Nixon was constitutional.

The right for a president to grant a pre-indictment pardon goes way back to a Supreme Court case from 1867, which said that the President’s pardoning power is “unlimited” and “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 judgement.

Even in cases of espionage, there is a precedent for pardoning someone. On his final day in office, President Bill Clinton issued a pardon to Samuel Loring Morison.

Morison was convicted in 1985 for sending spy satellite photos of an under-construction Soviet aircraft carrier to a London-based magazine.

So why the difference between Manning and Snowden?

Comments earlier this week from White House press secretary Josh Earnest were quite revealing in the motives behind the decision not to grant Snowden a pardon.

He said: “Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing.

Mr Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and sought refuge in a country, that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.

With US-Russian relations strained, to say the least, in recent months a pardon from an Obama administration appears unlikely.

Despite Trump’s seemingly-cosy relationship with his Russian counterparts, his previous comments indicate he is unlikely to soften his stance on Snowden.

For his part, Snowden expressed his thanks at Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence, without calling for similar treatment for himself.

Manning and her supporters are now looking forward to her freedom, which is just a few months away. Snowden, however, has been granted a further stay in Russia.

If he is to ever return home with a full pardon in tow, it has now failed to happen under Obama and looks less likely to happen under President Trump.

Read: Obama commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning

Read: Democrats hacked again as Snowden and Assange fall out over leaks

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.