EDITOR’S NOTE: On January 17, President Obama announced that he was commuting the sentences of Chelsea Manning and Oscar López Rivera. But there are many others still left behind, including Leonard Peltier and Edward Snowden. Find out how you can help them below and read more stories of people asking for clemency at CanDoClemency.
Donald Trump’s election marked a sense of urgency for the thousands of inmates awaiting clemency. Shortly after, President Obama granted the greatest individual number of clemencies in a single day—to 231 prisoners, most of them serving time under draconian drug laws—in US history. In a critical development this week, NBC news reported that Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst imprisoned for leaking information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Wikileaks, is on President Obama’s short list for possible clemency before he leaves office.
The president has the power to grant clemency through sentence commutation, the reduction of penalties for a particular crime without wiping an individual’s record, or issuing a pardon, which wipes away all legal obligations of a conviction. While Obama has used commutations to lessen the sentences of victims of the so-called “war on drugs” (while still leaving thousands behind bars), he has yet to take action on some of the highest-profile prisoners, and his pardon rates remain on the lower end of the spectrum.
The White House has recently issued several updates, stating that it “does not comment” on individual pardon applications and directing requests to the Pardon Attorney’s website (you can also reach them at 202-616-6070). Those wanting to contact the White House are instructed to do so via mail, e-mail, or Facebook message, as the comment phone line is closed.
It’s vital that we fight for a pardon or clemency where we can. For some, it may be their very last chance. Here are some of the cases that advocates are fighting for during Obama’s final weeks and what you can do to help.
Why this case matters: The Anishinabe-Lakota Native American activist was convicted of killing two FBI agents in 1975, and has denied the accusation, citing an unfair trial. His supporters include Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, and an extensive network of Native American and tribal leaders. The prosecutor on his case, James Reynolds, even recently joined in on the call for a compassionate release. Peltier is currently being held in poor health: “If he doesn’t take action before 19 January,” attorney Cynthia K Dunne told The Guardian. “Mr Peltier will die in jail. He’s too frail and too sick to make it much longer in the prison system.” You can read more about Peltier’s case here.
What you can do: In addition to putting pressure on the Pardon Attorney, organizers are urging folks to visit an Amnesty International Petition to push for his clemency and to call the Department of Justice at 202-353-1555.