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Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence

President Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the transgendered former US Army intelligence analyst who was serving 35 years in prison for leaking state secrets.

On the eve of the inauguration of the deeply polarizing President-elect Donald Trump, Obama overrode his secretary of defense and issued an order that will allow Manning to walk free. The move does not pardon her however, and she remains convicted of her crimes, which include stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

Manning was handed a 35-year sentence on a host of charges, including communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source, to, following a courtroom confession back in 2013, when she was still Pfc. Bradley Manning.

In 2009 and 2010, Manning admitted that she—he at the time—smuggled out several SD disks with reams of classified information, including contents of Significant Actions files, or SigActs, which detail military actions on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning said in the confession that the motivations for betraying US secrets involved human rights and opposition to the way the wars were carried out.

The documents she leaked included more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, in addition to hundreds of thousands of other confidential documents. These however were not classified as “top secret,” and Manning is seen as a whistleblower by her supporters.

Many have expressed deep dismay at the commutation, including those high up in the Pentagon, according to reports. Outgoing Defense Secretary Ash Carter, as well as top US Army leaders, recommended against President Obama commuting the bulk of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, a senior defense official told Fox News.

And, Sen. Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—said that "we ought not treat a traitor like a martyr."

"I am very surprised," the Arkansas Republican, an Army veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told Jake Tapper on CNN. "Chelsea Manning pleaded guilty to very serious crimes leaking highly classified information that put at risk the lives of our troops and our diplomats, our intelligence officers—allies who helped us around the world.”

As to the charge of being a traitor, it should be noted that Manning was never convicted on the most serious charge that she faced: aiding the enemy, which would qualify as treason and would have carried a life sentence.

Supporters, which include the ACLU, Amnesty International and digital rights group Fight for the Future, said that the commutation is an act of human mercy, as Manning has faced what they characterize as cruel and unusual punishment in prison.

In 2015 for instance, a military court found her guilty of four charges, which included possession of LGBTQ reading material like the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair, and having a tube of expired toothpaste in her cell. For that, she received 21 days of recreational restrictions, excluding her from time in the gym, library and outdoors.

Manning said at the time that she had done nothing to warrant the hearing other than speak out on the treatment of prisoners and her struggle as a trans woman behind bars. She also said that the whole thing started when she complained that military correctional staff denied her access to the prison legal library. During the closed disciplinary hearing, Manning was required to present her own defense—the ACLU said that she’s been denied an attorney as punishment for unruly behavior.

In June 2016, Manning attempted to take her own life. A prison disciplinary subsequently found her guilty of “conduct which threatens” because of it, along with a charge for prohibited property for possessing an unmarked copy of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, by Gabriella Coleman. She received seven days of solitary confinement.

The punishment and treatment of Manning also has been held up in juxtaposition with that of General David Petraeus, who leaked secrets that were in fact classified as top secret to his ghostwriter and mistress, and, the FBI alleged, to outside reporters. For that, he received only probation and a fine of $100,000.

As a result of what many see as inhumane, unfair and outsized treatment, the drumbeat for clemency has gotten louder and louder. Over the course of her imprisonment, more than 100,000 people signed an official Whitehouse.gov petition, meeting the threshold to require a response from the President. Hundreds of thousands also have signed previous petitions organized by Fight for the Future and other groups decrying her treatment while in prison. The ACLU and more than a dozen prominent LGBT organizations sent a letter to President Obama calling for her commutation, Amnesty International sent a letter to President Obama, and supporters sent over 25,000 emails to the White House. Human Rights Watch also sent a letter to President Obama supporting clemency.

“Chelsea’s release is [a] massive victory for free speech, human rights and democracy,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. “As someone who has become friends with Chelsea over the last year, but has never had a chance to see her face or give her a hug, I'm overjoyed that she will be able to share her beautiful self with the world. She has so much to offer, and her freedom will be a testament to the power of grassroots organizing. I’m so excited for the world to get to know her as the compassionate, intelligent and kind person who she is.”

Photo © LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES 

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