Controversial Military Justice Updates

President Obama’s final days in office brought a couple of controversial surprises to the Military Justice Community. 

First, he commuted the sentence of Army Private Chelsea Manning. NYT coverage of the decision is here. PVT Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, was convicted of leaking vast troves of classified military intelligence to Wikileaks in 2010.  

The narrow effect is that PVT Manning served about seven years out of her 35-year sentence.  But the political issues interwoven through the case–including leaks, gender identify in the military, and the President’s role in commuting sentences–make this a much broader debate. Cully Stimson, a former Navy JAG, argues here that the President’s commutation creates a bad precedent and undermines the military. On the other side of the debate, lawfareblog.com provides a thoughtful rejoinder here.

Second, the President commuted Private Dwight Loving’s death penalty to life without parole (LWOP). The case, stemming from a 1988 murder, has been floating around the military justice system and various levels of appeal for nearly 30 years. PVT Loving was one of only five current death row inmates. The Military Times provides coverage here.

This decision was controversial, though to a much lower degree than PVT Manning’s, because it is not clear what set PVT Loving apart from his fellow death-row inmates. Additionally, the underlying charge was brutal. Regardless, this decision is of particular note to our office, since we will be presenting a case study on the Kenneth Parker death-penalty appeal this Thursday. Full details are here

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