Shaving nearly 28 years off of her sentence, President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining jail time of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of the 2010 leak that exposed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration, and boosted WikiLeaks to stardom.
Mr. Obama’s merciful gesture rescued Ms. Manning from an uncertain future as a transgender woman in a mens military prison, Fort Leavenworth Kansas, in the age of Donald Trump. Over the past seven years of her imprisonment she’s twice attempted to commit suicide while serving a 35 year sentence – by far the longest of any leaker of classified government documents. There have only been a handful of leak cases, and the average sentence is between two and three years.
Under the terms of Mr. Obama’s commutation, Ms. Manning is scheduled for release on May 17th 2017 instead of 2045.
The move by the outgoing President also relieves the military of obligation for treating her gender dysphoria – including things such as continued gender therapy hormones and sex reassignment operations of which the military has no experience administering.
In announcing the President’s commutation, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” in comparison to NSA leaker Edward Snowden who he said “fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”
In her application for commutation, Ms. Manning said that she never imagined that she would be sentenced to the “extreme” term of 35 years, a term for which there was “no historical precedent.”
“I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public,” she wrote. “I have never made any excuses for what I did. I plead guilty without the protection of a plea agreement because I believed the military justice system would understand my motivation for the disclosure and sentence me fairly. I was wrong.”
Prior to June of last year, the military’s policy was to discharge transgender service members immediately upon discovery of their gender identity. Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter changed that policy in June and said the military would instead provide treatment for them, eventually including sex reassignment surgery if doctors said it was necessary.
President-elect Donald Trump mocked that change as excessively “politically correct,” raising the possibility that he will rescind it.
Regardless, Ms. Manning has been spared the hand of the next commander in chief and will be released per Mr. Obama’s commutation on May 17th, 2017.