Manning’s 35-year sentence—the longest in the history of U.S. government leaks—was officially commuted by the outgoing president on Tuesday afternoon. Rather than exiting the U.S. military’s detention facility barracks in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas in 2045, Manning will breath fresh air once again in just four short months.
The journey of the transgender soldier, thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after disclosing military actions by the United States described as war crimes, was not one for the faint of heart. In the last year alone, Manning twice attempted to end her own while suffering from a serious and as-of-yet untreated medical condition; prior to her arrest in May 2011, then Private First Class Manning was diagnosed in Iraq by a military psychologist with gender dysphoria, a rare condition known to cause severe psychological distress in transgender men and women.
Manning’s treatment at the hands of the U.S. military has been widely condemned over the years by some of the world’s leading organizations in pursuit of human rights and equality. In 2012, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture described the treatment Manning over the 11 months she was housed at Marine Corps Base Quantico as both “cruel and inhumane.”
In February 2010, Manning leaked more than 725,000 secret U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks—a decision that she appeared to later regret in court. “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States,” she told a judge at her court martial. That apology, audio of which was aired to the public for the first time last week by NBC, is likely to have weighed heavily on President Obama’s decision.
At press conference on Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that Manning had “acknowledged wrongdoing,” while sharply contrasting the 29-year-old’s actions against those of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whom the administration criticized for fleeing “into the arms of an adversary.” Earnest also claimed that the information Manning disclosed to the public had damaged national security far less than the National Security Agency files Snowden leaked to a select group of journalists.
“Obama may well have just saved Chelsea Manning’s life,” said Sarah Harrison, director of the Courage Foundation, which has since 2013 advocated on Manning’s behalf. “Freeing her is clearly and unambiguously the right thing to do, and not just for the obvious humanitarian reasons, though those are absolutely compelling.”
Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future and a fierce supporter of Manning throughout her imprisonment, released the following statement:
“Chelsea’s release is massive victory for free speech, human rights, and democracy. 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.”
While the anxiety surrounding Manning’s ordeal will soon fade, the advancements in cause she made on behalf of stigmatized transgender Americans, particularly those seeking to serve their country openly in the military, will undoubtedly face new tests as a fresh commander in chief is sworn in—one who, while on the campaign trail last fall, revealed himself opposed to the very notion of their existence.