The woman who controversially inspired millions of people around the world has been commuted of her sentence for leaking documents to Wikileaks.
Back in 2010, transgender US Army private, born Bradley Manning, conducted one of the largest breaches of classified material in US history. Consequently, in 2013, the 29 year old was sentenced to 35 years for her role in leaking diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy group.
The White House had recently speculated that it was open to commuting Manning’s sentence, and she will now be freed on the 17th May this year, instead of her previous release date in 2045.
Since her sentence commenced, she had attempted suicide twice last year where she was being held at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. She also went on a hunger strike during the same year, which only came to an end after the military agreed to provide her with gender dysphoria treatment.
President Barack Obama commuted her sentence, as one of his final acts has president, alongside 209 other sentences and granted pardons to 64 others. During his time as president, he has granted more commutations than the previous 12 US presidents combined.
The reactions to the news of Manning’s commute has been largely positive. David Coombs, Manning’s lawyer, told the BBC, “It really is a great act of mercy by President Obama” whilst expressing what a huge relief it would be for his client.
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leaks, told the BBC, “I don’t think she (Manning) should have spent a single day in prison. She was heroic and has inspired millions of people around the world”.
Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, who in contrast will not be granted a pardon for his crimes of leaking information on mass surveillance programmes before fleeing the US, also expressed his gratitude towards the commuting. He wrote on Twitter, “Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama”.
However, not everyone thought that it was the right choice. Republican Senator John McCain expressed his fear for the future due to Obama’s decision, by saying that the decision was “a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage”. House Speaker Paul Ryan, also a Republican, called it “outrageous”.
Manning was charged by the US Army with 22 counts that related to the unauthorised possession and distribution of more than 700,000 secret diplomatic and military documents and video. Within those files was video footage from 2007 of an Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad. Reportedly, there was also sensitive messages between US diplomats, which included intelligence assessments of Guantanamo detainees that were being held without a trial.
During the sentence hearing, Manning apologised for “hurting the US”, claiming that her plan was to “change the world for the better”.
Although Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, whose organisation published the diplomatic cables, previously said that he would agree to be extradited to the US if president Obama granted clemency to Manning, the White House claimed that this offer was not the influence for Manning’s case. Assange has not since commented on his previous claim.
Assange, who has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, is currently wanted for questioning by the authorities in Sweden in relation to an alleged sex offence. Upon hearing the news, he tweeted saying, “Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s clemency. Your courage and determination made the impossible possible”.
Despite more than a million supporters of Snowden petitioning Obama to pardon him, the White House have claimed that he has not submitted the necessary documents for clemency. Snowden’s crimes of also leaking classified US documents is said to be a lot more serious than Manning’s, together with the way that he fled the US evading the charges in America which could have put him in prison for 30 years.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “the disclosures by Edward Snowden were far more serious and far more dangerous” and accused him of fleeing “into the arms of an adversary”.
Despite Obama’s commutation of Manning, in America, neither a pardon nor a commutation is an acknowledgment of innocence.