Outgoing President Barack Obama has chosen to commute the vast majority of Chelsea Manning’s thirty-five-year prison sentence for leaking American intelligence information to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
Manning has served seven years of her thirty-five-year sentence thus far, and is now scheduled to be set free in five months, on May 17th of this year.
Chelsea Manning, who was born and served as a military intelligence analyst for the United States Army as Bradley Manning before coming out as transgender, pleaded guilty in a military court martial in 2013 for copying hundreds of thousands of secret files from a secure server while deployed to Iraq in 2009. Manning then provided that information, which included incident logs and diplomatic cables sent from American embassies around the world, to Julian Assange for mass distribution. Assange would go on to put WikiLeaks on the map using the information Manning provided.
At the time, Manning hoped making the files public would prompt “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” Some of the information included in the leaks discussed Guantánamo Bay detainees that were being held without trial, sensitive discussions between ambassadors, and the abuse of prisoners at the hands of Iraqi military officers serving with American troops. Rumors that the United States government had to scramble to remove foreign and military assets from nations around the globe swirled, suggesting that Manning’s leaks could lead to the lives of those serving America’s interests overseas being in danger, though evidence to support that didn’t surface during Manning’s trial.
At her court martial, Manning did apologize for what she’d done and claimed to take full responsibility for her actions. She, and her defense team, claimed that she was suffering a mental crisis at the time, brought about by the stresses of serving in a war zone while struggling with her own gender identity and sexual orientation. Prosecutors charged Manning with treason, multiple violations of the Espionage Act and Aiding the Enemy – though the latter of those charges was eventually dismissed by a military judge.
“I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public,” she wrote to the president. “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’s thirty-five-year sentence was significantly longer than sentences given to other leakers, though the sheer volume and sensitivity of the information Manning chose to disclose was certainly unprecedented.
Many have wondered why President Obama has chosen to commute Manning’s sentence while ignoring America’s other secret-leaker, Edward Snowden’s requests for judicial mercy. Snowden has been in hiding since leaking classified information he gained as an employee at the National Security Agency in 2013.
“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” White House spokesman, Joshua Earnest told reporters. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”
He went on to add that the information leaked by Snowden was “far more serious and far more dangerous,” as none of Manning’s leaks contained information rated above a “secret” level.
Another issue arises as of January 12th, when Assange offered to surrender to extradition if Obama were to pardon Manning. Given the Wikileaks record of sensationalism and anti-US activities, the question remains if he will make good on his word.
The government has recently begun honoring Manning’s assumed gender, permitting her to wear female undergarments and to apply light makeup, but has required that she retain the short, military haircut due to security risks. She has also been treated with cross-sex hormones as a part of her treatment for gender dysmorphia, but has not yet been permitted to see a doctor about pursuing gender reassignment surgery despite Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter changing military policy last year to permit such surgical procedures. Her release will likely alleviate the military’s responsibility under this policy to aid her in seeking such an operation.
We here at SOFREP have some strong opinions about Chelsea Manning and the decision to commute her sentence that will likely be discussed in further articles. I’d like to make it clear that my negative view of Manning has nothing to do with her gender identity, but rather the men and women who were put in harm’s way as a result of her reckless behavior. I find her defense, claiming that she betrayed the confidence of the United States because she was confused about her gender, insulting to the thousands of men and women in America struggling with similar issues today, and an utterly unreasonable explanation for one to betray their own country.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Army