Bid for freedom. The Justice Department announced a new clemency initiative that could facilitate widespread pardons during President Barack Obama’s final years in office. Prisoners with clean prison records, who do not present a threat to public safety and were sentenced under “out-of-date laws”would be eligible to apply for clemency. The government would provide lawyers to work on the cases. Obama administration officials gave no estimates of how many prisoners might be eligible. Although the program is not limited to drug convictions, it is aimed at prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. Congress amended the law mandating tougher sentences for crack cocaine use in 2010. Some estimates indicate about 7,000 prisoners would not have been put behind bars under the new sentencing guidelines. Attorney General Eric Holder has led a push to curtail the use of mandatory sentencing to punish drug offenders.
Grim task. Divers in South Korea have now recovered 156 bodies from the Sewol ferry, which sank last week. About 150 of the 476 passengers on board at the time of the accident remain missing. Most of the bodies were recovered from the open lounge area. Divers must now begin to break through cabin walls to reach bodies trapped in that part of the vessel. Although the effort could be made easier if salvage teams used cranes to lift the ferry off the sea floor, government officials have warned families that doing so might eliminate any air pockets that could be keeping survivors alive. Families who have given up hope of being reunited with their loved ones want officials to recover the bodies as quickly as possible, before they decay beyond recognition. But others strongly oppose moving the ship, holding out hope that some of those trapped, mostly high school students, might still be alive.
Pvt. Chelsea. A Kansas judge this morning granted a name change request from Bradley Manning, the Army private convicted of stealing thousands of classified documents. From now on, and on his military records, the soldier will be referred to as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. Manning, who announced he wanted to be referred to as a woman shortly after his conviction, is serving 35 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for giving government secrets to the watchdog website WikiLeaks. The name change does not obligate the Army to start treating him as a woman or transfer him to a women’s prison. In a statement issued through his lawyers, Manning said, “Hopefully today’s name change, while so meaningful to me personally, can also raise awareness of the fact that we [transgender] people exist everywhere in America today, and that we must jump through hurdles every day just for being who we are.”
Hashed out. The New York Police Department’s attempt to connect on Twitter with those it protects and serves backfired yesterday. On Tuesday afternoon, the department’s communications team asked its Twitter followers to tweet photos of themselves with police officers, using the hashtag #mynypd. Instead of cute snaps of families with their neighborhood beat cops, people posted photos of police brutality and controversial tactics. By this morning the hashtag had been retweeted more than 94,000 times and wasn’t losing much momentum. In a two-sentence statement issued after the campaign bombed, NYPD tried to put a positive spin on all the negativity. “Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city,” the statement said.
Still looking. Malaysian officials are downplaying hopes that items found washed ashore in Western Australia may belong to the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. In a news conference this morning, the director of the Department of Civil Aviation said no objects found to date have had any connection to the jet that went missing more than a month ago with 239 people aboard. Although leaders of the search team said several weeks ago it might soon be time to call off the costly attempt to recover the plane from the Indian Ocean, 10 military aircraft and 12 ships continue to comb the area for signs of the wreckage.