President Barack Obama is commuting a bulk of the remaining prison sentence for Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst responsible for a major 2010 military leak, according to a New York Times report. Manning is scheduled to be released from federal custody on May 17 according to the report.
The commutation appears to have occurred against all odds. The former Army intelligence analyst tried to commit suicide twice last year and has also gone on a hunger strike to protest her treatment at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Manning is frequently credited for putting Wikileaks, the recipient of her disclosures, on the map. The most famous component of the Manning leaks was arguably a video titled “Collateral Murder” that depicts a 2007 air strike in Baghdad during which a US helicopter crew fired at and killed innocent journalists. The video has been viewed millions of times and is considered a major turning point in the Iraq War.
Manning’s treatment by the US military has long been the focus of a conversation surrounding the leaks and legal response. She was first held at a Marine Corps facility in Virginia from July 2010 to April 2011 following her arrest and placed under a “prevention of injury” status, the military equivalent of a solitary confinement. Officials (and supporters) debated for months whether the her treatment under this status was justified. Obama defended her treatment, saying at the time they were “appropriate” and “meeting our basic standards.”
Manning also fought for treatment for her gender dysphoria while imprisoned, which includes a sex reassignment surgery—something the military has no experience providing prisoners with. Now, it appears that Department of Defense will no longer have the difficult responsibility of handling this issue.
When she was initially imprisoned in 2010, Chelsea Manning was still known as Bradley Manning. At her court-martial, Manning confessed in detail to stealing more than 700,00 military files and diplomatic cables from American embassies and giving the stolen data to Wikileaks. Manning was convicted by a court-martial in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act among other offenses. She was later sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment.
Manning’s sentencing was particularly harsh for a leak conviction. The New York Times reports that it was the longest punishment imposed against someone charged with leaking US intelligence information.
Supporters of Chelsea Manning have long argued that the harsh sentencing could be linked to the scandal surrounding NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who also leaked confidential military information around the same time.
The major distinction between both individuals is the level of classification given to the information they leaked. The info provided in the Manning leak was only at the “secret” level of classification, not “top secret” as it was in Snowden’s leaks.
Both Wikileaks and Snowden have called on President Obama to grant Manning clemency. “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,” said Snowden in a tweet.
Wikileaks went a step further. The organization promised if President Obama granted Chelsea Manning clemency that its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange would agree to US extradition. It remains to be seen whether Wikileaks holds up its end of the bargain.