Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Housing crisis is the scandal of our age (Daily Telegraph)

Rents must be brought down and investment shifted from welfare into building the homes that Britain needs so desperately, says Mary Riddell.

2. Out of Europe, Britain faces a weak future (Financial Times)

If the prime minister is to call a referendum, the only real choice is between being fully in or out altogether, says Jonathan Powell.

3. A betrayal of principle on same-sex marriage (Independent)

Cameron talked big; what he delivered is a cobbling together of compromise and cowardice of which he should be ashamed, says an Independent leader.

4. Culture wars are an unwelcome American import (Daily Telegraph)

By supporting gay marriage, David Cameron risks sowing division where none previously existed, argues a Telegraph editorial.

5. This lily-livered marriage bill must make room for all of us (Guardian)

Gay people are still being denied marriage, while straight people are deserting it in droves, writes Gaby Hinsliff. The institution itself is a mess.

6. Who should we back in this Sunni-Shia war? (Times) (£)

Syria is not a struggle between tyranny and freedom but a fight for dominance between two visions of Islam, writes Paddy Ashdown. 

7. Japan should scare the eurozone (Financial Times)

Japan’s two consecutive lost decades are precisely what Europe should not want to emulate, writes Sebastian Mallaby.

8. Northern Ireland is not at a crossroads it's stuck on a roundabout (Guardian)

The recurring violence of a minority in Northern Ireland reflects a wider lack of faith in its politics, says Peter Shirlow.

9. The rioters shouldn’t worry – Ulster is safe (Daily Telegraph)

As the census shows, a united Ireland has become an outdated nationalist fantasy, argues Ruth Dudley Edwards.

 

 

10. Sorry Mr Cameron, Television debates are not optional (Independent)

The PM's bid to weedle out of pre-election live debates in 2015 makes a handsome Christmas gift to Ed Miliband, says Matthew Norman.

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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.