( January 18, 2017, Boston, Sri Lanka Guardian) One of President Obama’s last acts in office has been to commute much of Wikileaks leaker Chelsea Manning’s sentence, and she will walk free on May 17. Confirmation came from the White House today, with many praising the decision, one that could have saved Manning’s life.
Having been sentenced to 35 years for leaks to Julian Assange’s organization, Manning spent much of her time in solitary confinement. Supporters feared for her life, as Manning’s gender dysphoria and will to have sex reassignment surgery caused considerable grief as she was forced to serve her time in an all-male prison. She made at least one attempt to take her own life, for which she was given a term in solitary.
Manning’s representation, Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the decision “could quite literally save Chelsea’s life.” “We are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman, dedicated to making the world a better place and fighting for justice for so many,” Strangio added.
Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward, Manning’s appellate counselors, said in a joint statement that Manning disclosed information that “served the public interest and never caused harm.” The 35-year-sentence, the longest ever handed to a whistleblower, “was always excessive,” they added.
Though Obama has received praise for the commutation, it “will not make good the harm done on Obama’s watch,” said Sarah Harrison, acting director of the Courage Foundation, which runs the European side of Chelsea Manning’s defense fund.
Manning was first arrested in Baghdad in May 2010 after she (then named Bradley Manning) handed a trove of army material to Wikileaks, including the infamous “collateral murder” video showing a U.S. helicopter shooting at unarmed individuals, including Reuters journalists. She waited three years for a trial. When her incarceration was ordered, it was the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower.
Since then, human rights groups, from Amnesty to Human Rights Watch, have demanded Manning be pardoned. Reports that Manning was on the list for consideration for commutation (different to a pardon) circulated last week, but few were confident of any commutation from Obama.
The White House said today the outgoing president had granted 209 commutations, taking his total to 1,385 individuals, the most of any president ever. A pardon was also granted to General James Cartwright, who was sentenced for misleading the FBI during an investigation into leaks about Stuxnet, malware used on Iran’s uranium enrichment plants. Stuxnet was allegedly created by the U.S. and Israel, though neither government has officially admitted responsibility. He pled guilty in October 2016 for lying about his contacts with New York Times reporter David Sanger and then Newsweek journalist Daniel Klaidman on the malware.
“Chelsea’s releases through WikiLeaks helped bring an end to the US war on Iraq, galvanised Arab Spring protesters and inspired subsequent truthtellers,” Harrison added. “Chelsea should also be admired for the way she has drawn international attention to battles for transgender rights and against prison abuse, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”
Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, called the decision “outrageous,” claiming the leaks put lives at risk.
Meanwhile, rumors are abounding that Assange will be extradited from the Ecuadorian Embassy for the U.K., thanks to a tweet that promised he would head to the U.S. if Manning had her sentence cut short.
Wikileaks had not commented at the time of publication.
And what of the world’s best-known free whistleblower, NSA leaker Edward Snowden? Activists continued to call for a pardon today. “We also hope President Obama will take the logical next step by pardoning NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose release of information the president himself recognized has led to an important public debate,” said Sarah St.Vincent, national security and surveillance researcher in the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch.
[ Courtesy: The Forbes ]