Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. It's time for Chilcot's team to flex their ageing muscles (Independent)

Armando Iannucci says that today we'll find out whether the Chilcot inquiry is Hutton regenerated, or something capable of fingering the culprits.

2. The real problem was Blair's policy to America, not Iraq (Guardian)

Martin Kettle argues that Tony Blair was not wrong about intervention: it was his political judgement that went badly awry. If only this was Chilcot's focus.

3. Once more unto the breach (Times)

The Times leading article pitches in, too, arguing that while today will be a compelling political spectacle, every conceivable question has already been asked of Blair. More important is the process of government and the war's aftermath.

4. The US is our ally, but we aren't its servant (Daily Telegraph)

It's clearly election season. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, writes in the Telegraph that our foreign policy should be designed to serve Britain's national interests, and not beholden to the "special relationship".

5. We can make you behave (Guardian)

The Conservative shadow chancellor, George Osborne, and the Tories' economics adviser Richard Thaler follow suit, setting out their plan to base government policy on behavioural economics.

6. Sri Lanka's destructive feud (Independent)

The acrimonious election campaign did not augur well for a new Sri Lanka, says the leading article. Now President Rajapaksa must move towards genuine inclusion to prevent old tensions from resurfacing.

7. The MMR battle is, sadly, not over (Times)

Nigel Hawkes says that lawyers and journalists are also culpable for the MMR vaccine controversy. The British health system was less effective as than America's in tackling it head-on.

8. Green is the colour of climate discord (Financial Times)

Fiona Harvey argues that green groups and NGOs hinder progress on climate change with their unrealistic demands, and should not be allowed to disrupt the next stage of international talks.

9. This corruption in Washington is smothering America's future (Independent)

"How do you regulate banks effectively, if the Senate is owned by Wall Street?" asks Johann Hari, He takes a look at the power of lobby groups in the US.

10. Hear the rumble of Christian hypocrisy (Times)

Richard Dawkins discusses Pat Robertson's assertion that the Haiti earthquake is punishment for sin, concluding that the evangelist is at least true to his religion.

 

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.