Chelsea Manning Has New Hope That Obama Will Commute Her Sentence

According to NBC News, a Department of Justice official says that Chelsea Manning is on President Obama’s ‘short list’ for commutations of prison sentences before he leaves office. The move could be a lifesaver for Manning.

The transgender private, a former Army intelligence analyst, has received rough treatment in federal prison both before and after being handed a 35-year sentence for leaking diplomatic and military documents to WikiLeaks. She has already served more time than any other whistleblower in U.S. history.

Before she was even tried, Manning was held in solitary confinement for 11 months — an action that many consider both cruel and unusual punishment. Last July, after a suicide attempt, Manning was placed in solitary confinement again, for 14 days. On the first night in solitary, she made a second suicide attempt.

Manning asked the military for hormone treatments to transition into becoming a woman. The decision to provide her with this crucial medical treatment, necessary to her mental health, took 18 months.

With a Trump presidency looming, many see that the former analyst’s life will be at increasing risk. Trump has called the military’s policy of providing medical treatment for gender dysphoria “a dangerous act of political correctness.” Both Manning and an aunt, Deborah Manning, have called the petition to President Obama her “last real chance” to go home in a very long time. 

Attorney Chase Strangio of the ACLU is representing Manning in a transgender rights lawsuit. Strangio said of this last-ditch effort:

The Obama administration has done many commendable things to protect the rights of LGBTQ people, but in the case of Chelsea Manning they have systematically mistreated her and denied her access to medically recommended gender-related healthcare. Chelsea won’t survive another five years in prison, much less another 30.

Those who support the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence point to the fact that the information she released did not jeopardize national security. It did embarrass the nation, and rightly so. The information exposed war crimes, especially a video showing a helicopter crew laughing at the collateral murder of innocents during a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad. The images on the video were beyond an embarrassment — they were an affront to human decency.

Manning has been described as both fragile and naive, but anyone would have — or should have — been unnerved by what they saw on that video. Nevertheless, she pled guilty and apologized to the nation, saying:

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States. I understand that I must pay the price for my decisions and actions.

She has paid a price — more than any other whistleblower — and it’s time for the torture to end, for her to be allowed to go home. Her defense lawyer, David Coombs, said:

After this case, I had to tell Chelsea — ‘I’ve represented murderers. I’ve represented rapists. I’ve represented child molesters. And none of them received 35 years.’ 

But the most poignant words come from Chelsea Manning herself, and her aunt. Manning told President Obama, in her plea:

I have spent almost all of my adult life either homeless, in the military or in prison. I haven’t had the chance to live my life yet.

Her aunt, Deborah Manning, told NBC:

I would say this is someone who’s never had a chance in life, who is extremely bright, who became extremely emotionally distressed as some point, who made a bad decision, who paid for that bad decision. And it’s time to let her go out and try to make a positive contribution in the world.

Over 100,000 supporters agree. They signed an online petition to Obama in December, asking him to release Chelsea Manning. According to his own guidelines, the President must respond within 60 days to a petition of that magnitude.

He has nine days left in which he still has the power to make a difference.

Feature photo composite: President Obama signing documents via the U.S. Government, Chelsea Manning drawing from the Chelsea Manning Support Network.

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Deborah Montesano

Deborah Montesano is a longtime political activist and blogger. She learned to fight against impossible odds by living for years in Arizona, but recently relocated to the more progressive-friendly city of Portland, Oregon. Find her on Facebook at facebook.com/thepoliticali/ or on Twitter @thepoliticali_1.

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