It was announced on Tuesday that President Obama commuted the sentence of famed whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
And no, this is not the same as a pardon, despite the hopes of many privacy and human rights advocates.
Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution grants Obama the executive power of clemency. With this, he can choose to commute or pardon sentences as he sees fit.
A commutation is the shortening or “forgiveness” of a sentence. These are usually reserved for nonviolent inmates serving long, drug-related mandatory minimum sentences.
With a commutation, though the sentence served is significantly reduced, the conviction still remains on record. Manning will have served less than four years of her original 35-year conviction but will still be recognized as a felon.
A pardon is the full absolution of a conviction. Had Obama pardoned Manning, she would not have had to carry around the weight of a felon status.
On the same day Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, he pardoned retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who had previously been charged with a felony for “lying to investigators probing leaks about top secret U.S. efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.”
Activists still rejoiced despite the lesser action, but not before reminding the president of another famed whistleblower.
There is currently a movement of people asking for Obama to extend leniency to Edward Snowden before he leaves office. Of the chances that he would actually receive a presidential pardon, Snowden said, “I’m not counting on it.”
However, Snowden noted the possibility to receive one “has never been more likely.” Snowden said that he wouldn’t ask Obama to pardon him:
I would respectfully say to the president, “I understand you have an incredibly difficult job.” No one wants to be a whistleblower. This is something that’s hard to do. It’s hard enough to stand up to a bully in your life, to your boss in the office, much less the combined might of the National Security Agency, the FBI and, you know, the apparatus of government.
Despite nearly 1 million people signing a petition for his freedom, any sort of lenient legal action, especially seeing as Snowden has not yet been convicted, does not seem likely in the near future.