Imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning is on President Obama’s “short list” of potential commutations, according to a report on NBC News citing an anonymous Justice Department official.
Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking a massive trove of intelligence documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, formally appealed the military court’s 2013 ruling on the basis that it was “grossly unfair and unprecedented” last May. A presidential commutation would mean Manning would not have to serve the remaining 31 years of her sentence.
That the Obama administration is reportedly considering commuting Manning’s sentence is remarkable given the president’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers and the government’s full-throated condemnation of Manning for leaking 700,000 classified military and state department documents published by WikiLeaks in 2010. At the time, it was the largest leak in US history.
Manning, who was a private first class in the U.S. Army, was branded a traitor during her prosecution and eventual conviction under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law intended for spies.
During her incarceration, Manning has twice attempted suicide, was placed in solitary confinement, and went on a hunger strike that ended in September after the US Army agreed to her participating in treatment for gender dysphoria.
The news comes nearly two months after Manning’s supporters petitioned the White House to commute her sentence and garnered the 100,000 signatures needed to prompt a White House response.
“Chelsea has already served more time in prison than any individual in United States history who disclosed information in the public interest,” the petition stated. “Her disclosures harmed no one. President Obama, as you and the media community have recognized, prisoners who face solitary confinement are more likely to commit suicide.”
Among Manning’s leaks was footage from the cockpit of a US Apache helicopter documenting the slaughter of a dozen unarmed civilians and two photojournalists mistaken for enemy combatants.
Not long after the disclosures were made public, US officials asserted the leaks would put American lives in danger. Those claims have proven untrue to this day. Similar warnings have been made about the disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who on Wednesday implored Obama to forge ahead and commute Manning’s sentence.
Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 11, 2017
Manning’s recent stint in solitary confinement is not her first. During her pre-trial confinement, Manning was placed in solitary for nine months. Her treatment became the subject of a 14-month investigation by the UN special rapporteur on torture, which was critical of her treatment, saying the government had violated Manning’s right “to physical and psychological integrity as well as of [her] presumption of innocence.”
Just days after her sentence, Manning revealed on NBC’s Today Show that she was transitioning to a woman and changing her name from Bradley to Chelsea.
“She’s brought awareness to both the issues associated with being a whistleblower to transgender issues, and I think she understands she occupies that political space,” Manning’s New Mexico-based lawyer Vincent Ward told the Press last year.
Now her supporters hope she can be an advocate without being confined to a prison cell.