Illustration by Max Fleishman

Obama considers clemency for Chelsea Manning

Considered a whistleblower by many, Manning could be granted clemency as early as Wednesday.


Dell Cameron


Posted on Jan 11, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 5:39 am CDT

With few days remaining on the job, President Barack Obama has reportedly shortlisted former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for a commutation, NBC News reports. 

In audio released by NBC for the first time, Manning is heard apologizing for her actions in court. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States.”

“I understand that I must pay the price for my decisions and actions,” added Manning, who plead guilty in 2013. 

Nearly seven years ago, while on leave from her post in Baghdad, Manning uploaded to WikiLeaks more than 725,000 secret documents, including Army reports and U.S. diplomatic cables. She was arrested roughly three months later and detained at the Camp Arifjan U.S. Army installation in Kuwait. It was there, placed in solitary confinement after revealing herself as transgender to other detainees, that Manning first attempting to end her own life in custody.

Manning attempted suicide for a second time last year at the Fort Leavenworth detention barracks in Kansas. Placed in solitary confinement as punishment, she almost immediately tried again.

Among the files leaked by Manning, whom many Americans consider to be a whistleblower, is the infamous Collateral Murder tape. The footage, released by WikiLeaks in an edited version, shows American helicopters firing on a group of men in Baghdad, killing among them two Reuters journalists; two children in a van were also wounded, their father killed in the attack. The American helicopter crew can be heard laughing on the tape.

“I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States.”

Although Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of files to WikiLeaks, she was charged with leaking portions of only 227 documents; 116 are diplomatic cables and portions of at least 44 of those were subsequently declassified by the Army. 

According to the Department of Defense, the overall risk to national security caused by the leak was moderate to low—a fact that Manning supporters say demonstrates that her 35-year sentence is excessive.

“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’s defense lawyer, David Coombs, told NBC News.

Coombs, who previously served in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, said he believes that no harm came from Manning’s disclosures. “A lot of embarrassment, certainly,” he said.

Alexa O’Brien, the preeminent reporter covering the Manning case, who attended every day of her trial, told NBC that she believes Manning’s apology was genuine. “Everything she said in that statement is completely morally and ethically consistent with what she said when she pled to 10 lesser or included offenses,” she said.

Obama, who in a single day last month granted clemency to a record 231 prisoners, has nine days to grant Manning amnesty. More than 116,920 people have signed a petition on the White House website asking him to do so. 

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*First Published: Jan 11, 2017, 7:08 am CST