In the years since her arrest, Chelsea Manning has been called a hero, the biggest whistleblower in US history, and, recently, an "ungrateful TRAITOR." In a few months, for the first time, she will be able to call herself a free woman.
The former military intelligence analyst was arrested in 2010 for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, exposing the true, human cost of the United States' overseas operations. She has been incarcerated for six years now, and subjected to "cruel and inhuman" conditions during this time, according to a United Nations investigation.
On January 17, President Obama granted Manning clemency, conceding that she has "served a tough prison sentence." Thanks to Obama's action, which occurred during his last week in office, Manning will be released from prison on May 17, 2017—seven years from the day she was first taken into custody, and just three months from now. According to her lawyer Chase Strangio, Obama saved her life.
The state of Manning's mental health first began deteriorating during her service in the armed forces—before her arrest—and her feelings of gender dysphoria were ignored by the army. She could have been given transgender medical care then, or early on in state custody. Instead, the ACLU had to sue in order for Manning to even receive hormone replacement therapy, which was finally administered in 2015. However, other treatment, like gender confirmation surgery, remained out of reach, and Manning's hair was still forcibly cut every two weeks. In 2016, Manning attempted suicide twice.
Despite the fact that Donald Trump recently criticized Manning on Twitter, writing that President Obama was wrong to commute her sentence, Strangio says there is no legal way for him to undo Obama's actions; the pardon power of the presidency is expansive and binding. Nonetheless, the Trump administration is unpredictable and brazen, and less than two weeks into his presidency, Trump has already been accused of creating a constitutional crisis. The ACLU will remain vigilant, monitoring Manning's conditions behind bars and working to ensure her safe passage from state custody to freedom.
Clearly, Americans are living in the shadow of a new political authority. Donald Trump has thrown the country into chaos and upset sensitive international relationships, subsequently causing millions to storm the streets day after day to reject his actions and attempt to reclaim America. Manning's release is one of Obama's last acts of reason and justice as president. While he may well have saved her life, he has also set free one of our generation's most important advocates for government transparency and public empowerment, and that is precisely the sort of activist that we need working with us today.