By Kelsey Mitchell, National News Writer
With only days left in office, President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, the military analyst responsible for disclosing information during the WikiLeaks scandal in 2010.
While serving in the Army as an analyst, Manning provided the infamous WikiLeaks with 700,000 military documents disclosing diplomatic relations and Army intelligence. According to NBC News, Manning was painted as a “traitor” by prosecutors while the defense claimed Manning acted as a “whistleblower”. While the documents did little harm in terms of revealing intelligence, they caused the government embarrassment with the information leaked.
Manning pleaded guilty, earning a 35 year sentence in a military prison. The sentence is the longest for any act of information reveal, about 10 times longer than any other sentence for crimes of a similar nature. David Coombs, Manning’s defense lawyer, told NBC News that “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.” Manning apologized for her actions, stating “I understand that I must pay the price for my decisions and actions.”
The imprisonment of Manning unearthed a bigger ethical dilemma dealing with human rights and the treatment of prisoners. Chelsea Manning, born Bradley, announced the day following her hearing that she was transgender. Manning, stationed at Leavenworth military prison, began hormone therapy to begin the transition from male to female. According to the New York Times, life in prison has been bleak for Chelsea Manning. She describes her days saying: “I was always busy. I have a backlog of things to do: legal, administrative, press inquiries, and writing- lots of writing”.
However, despite keeping busy, life in prison has taken a serious toll on Chelsea Manning’s mental well-being. Manning described her mental state, stating: “I need help. I am living through a cycle of anxiety, ager, hopelessness, loss, and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life.” During her prison sentence, Manning attempted suicide twice.
Manning’s sentence serves as a critical case in human rights for prisoners. According to NBC, over 100,000 people signed a petition to have Manning’s sentence commuted. Lobbying efforts for her behalf were carried out by the American Civil Liberties Union and multiple gay-rights activist groups.
Manning’s release has received backlash from many Republicans. In a public statement, Speaker Paul Ryan said of Manning’s release, “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”
Two of Manning’s lawyers, Nancy Hollader and Vince Ward, have stated that “her 35 year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation.”
Manning is now set to be released on May 17 of this year. She is currently participating in a mandatory transitionary period that aims to help prisoners lead healthy and successful lives outside of prison.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, January 24th print edition.
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