Barack Obama Commutes Most Of Chelsea Manning's Remaining Sentence

Manning will be free this May.

With three days left in office, President Obama commuted a huge portion of the remaining sentence for Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence agent who was convicted of violating the Espionage Act following a massive classified data leak in 2010. 

Manning, who attempted to take her own life twice in prison while struggling with life as a transgender woman behind bars, was the first to make Wikileaks famous with her leak. At the time, she was still known as Bradley Manning.

Contained in the documents were correspondences between U.S. diplomats, intelligence documents about Guantanamo Bay detainees, a video of an American helicopter attack that took the lives of two Reuters journalists, incident logs that exposed abuse of detainees and data that suggested the civilian death toll in the Iraq War was far higher than people knew.

But in giving out that explosive information, which Manning fed to Wikileaks, which in turn worked with high-profile publishers like The New York Times to release it to the public, she also reportedly made foreign sources who had aided United States military officials vulnerable in dangerous countries. While prosecutors could not present any evidence that her leak cost a single life, the Obama administration had to scramble to extradite diplomats, sources and military personnel and to rework military strategy in response to the leak.


"I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public," Manning wrote at her court martial. "I have never made any excuses for what I did. I pleaded guilty without the protection of a plea agreement because I believed the military justice system would understand my motivation for the disclosure and sentence me fairly. I was wrong."

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed out for such acts. Now, she'll walk free May 17 of this year, instead of in 2045.

Since she was sentenced, her story has continued to be one of national interest. In court testimony after being charged for the leaks, Manning said that the stress of a war zone combined with her own revelations that she wasn't just gay but transgender had worn on her mental state. 

Once imprisoned, she became a national LGBT hero for coming out as trans while imprisoned at the all-male facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Then Manning began pushing for the military to provide her with sex reassignment surgery, something that had never been done before.

Political commentators that support Manning's freedom have argued that her leak helped prevent the extension of the Iraq War and expose military corruption, forcing reforms. They believe that she has already suffered enough behind bars. Opponents of commuting her sentence accuse her of being a traitor and hold steadfast to the idea that she put American lives and those of our allies in danger, and should pay the price. Some have even advocated that she be tried for treason and receive the death penalty.

The commuting of this sentence comes at an interesting time for Wikileaks, cyber security and whistleblowers.

At the time of her leaks, Manning made enemies with millions of conservatives who were far more outraged by her decision than by the conduct of the U.S. military personnel and diplomats whom she exposed. 

President-elect Donald Trump has frequently cited and cheered Wikileaks for the documents they've published in the last year. There's just one problem: he's also railed against trans acceptance in the army and appointed a deputy security advisor who advocated that Manning be executed for treason. 

That puts Trump in an interesting catch-22: he can reverse the decision to commute Manning and make an enemy out of Wikileaks, who has remained steadfast as an ally to Manning, or he can let her go free and ruffle the feathers of his Republican colleagues and his own deputy security advisor.

There is also the issue of a promise Wikileaks made just a few days ago:

"If Obama grants Manning clemency, Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case," the organization's official account tweeted.

Regardless of how you feel about the decision, it seems clear that Obama bent to public pressure surrounding the release of Manning that has been at a fever pitch in recent months. If nothing else, it's a reminder that the will of American citizens can influence public officials — and even the president — to change their positions.

Cover photo:LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock, Inc.

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