Treason Doth Never Prosper. What’s The Reason?

REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage.

Ken Allard Retired U.S. Army Colonel
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Is Bradley/Chelsea Manning a traitor? And if (s)he is, then what about President Obama, who commuted Manning’s sentence in the waning moments of his administration? How could any self-respecting  Commander-in-Chief set aside the conviction of the notorious former soldier who leaked a treasure-trove of defense secrets to WikiLeaks?

Sir John Harrington, an English courtier, asked a similar question in the 16th century, concluding,

Treason doth never prosper. What’s the reason?

Why is it prospers, none dare call it treason.

The White House press corps, reflexively bowing and scraping before Emperor Obama these last eight years, would never ask if the pardon of a transsexual was even a bad idea, let alone treason. Republicans eagerly anticipating the appearance of moving vans outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, might well have more unforgiving opinions. But be careful because our Founders were revolutionaries, many of them former Continental soldiers. They faced the hangman’s noose for treason against King George III had George Washington surrendered to Lord Cornwallis rather than the other way around.

As a direct result, they carefully limited its future use. Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution states, “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” One of President Lincoln’s most fateful decisions was declining to bring charges under that clause against Confederate leaders who had clearly fought an aggressive and nearly successful war against the United States. Wisely, Lincoln chose to bind up the wounds of Civil War rather than opening new ones.

In contrast, President Obama, chose to close his final press conference with a defense of the Manning commutation that can only raise new and deeply troubling questions about his competence as guarantor of the common defense. Normally smooth as a dead eel, Mr. Obama was halting and defensive while answering press questions about Manning. She was, the president maintained, given a “disproportionate” sentence of 35 years in prison for leaking roughly 750,000 classified documents, some of them top-secret. She had also “taken responsibility” for her actions, which even had overtones of whistle-blowing. Because she has already served seven years in an all-male prison, the president believed that “commuting (her) sentence was entirely appropriate.”

Are you serious, Mr. Obama, or has no one ever explained to you that what ex-PFC Manning did was an inherently disproportionate crime? That when he or she knowingly transmitted to WikiLeaks three-quarters of a million classified documents that it was the very definition of espionage and even of high-treason? That Manning’s treachery endangered his/her fellow soldiers and may even have gotten some people killed? With the Obama chain of command setting the tone, there was never the slightest chance that Manning would be charged, convicted and punished with the only sentence her crimes cried out for: the firing squad. While that may sound severe, it is the traditional punishment meted out to wartime traitors who endanger their comrades-in-arms, whether their names are Manning or Bergdahl.

Right up until its very last days, the presidency of Barack Obama has been a continuing offense against the minimum standards of what we expect from a Commander-in-Chief. He rushed to withdraw American troops from Iraq, spurning all military advice, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and guaranteeing the rise of ISIS. He temporized over Afghanistan, putting American soldiers at risk to little purpose while simultaneously announcing the date of their impending departure. His sole legitimate achievement – approving the killing of Osama bin Laden – was quickly turned into a political windfall, his more typical failures in Benghazi camouflaged with serial lying and sleights-of-hand. His signature “triumph” in foreign affairs –putting aside Egypt, Syria and the spread of terrorism – was the supposed nuclear treaty with Iran. If you believe it was effective statecraft, then you should carefully review the history of Neville Chamberlain at Munich and its appeasement of Adolph Hitler.

In short, Barack Obama may not technically have committed treason by commuting the sentence of a traitor. But his latest betrayal of the American soldier puts him in a special class of infamy that will become more obvious the longer he lives. How ironic that he, rather than Donald Trump, may ultimately be remembered as our least legitimate president!