Chelsea Manning, the former army analyst convicted of espionage in 2010, will walk out of the Fort Leavenworth disciplinary barracks a free woman in May 2017, 28 years ahead of schedule.
President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year sentence Tuesday after she served seven years for leaking thousands of documents to Wikileaks, including video showing airstrikes on Baghdad by two U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters that left a dozen dead, including two Iraqi men working for Reuters news agency. The video footage, dubbed “collateral murder” by Wikileaks, raised fresh questions about U.S. military conduct in Iraq and prompted debate about whether the strikes could be considered war crimes.
Manning was one of 209 individuals whose sentences were commuted by Obama on Tuesday.
“This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life, and 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,” said Chase Strangio, Manning’s lawyer who works with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project.
In recent years, Manning has become increasingly associated with her experience and struggle to live as a transgender woman. Her doctor, after officially diagnosing her with gender dysphoria in 2013, recommended she undergo hormone therapy and adhere to female grooming standards. Her doctor then recommended gender-affirming surgery in April 2016, which the Army agreed to pay for in September.
Rumblings of a possible commutation began last week, when NBC cited a Department of Justice source saying that Manning was on Obama’s short list.
In a statement accompanying her petition for clemency, filed by her lawyers in November, Manning said she accepted “full and complete responsibility” for her actions. “I have never made any excuses for what I did,” she said, adding that she is a “far different person than I was in 2010.”
“I am not Bradley Manning [her name before she transitioned],” she wrote. “I never really was. I am Chelsea Manning, a proud woman who is transgender and who, through this application, is respectfully requesting a first chance at life.”
Manning attempted suicide last summer, which she said was triggered by the Army’s refusal to acknowledge her doctor’s recommended treatment plan for her gender dysphoria. She has been placed in solitary confinement twice — the second time in connection with infractions committed during her suicide attempt.
Last week, Wikileaks tweeted that founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the United States to face charges if Obama granted Manning clemency. Edward Snowden made a similar offer. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest addressed Snowden’s offer earlier on Tuesday and said that Obama’s consideration of Manning’s clemency request had nothing to do with Snowden’s case.
Some prominent members of the Republican party have written statements expressing their anger over Obama’s action.
The White House, meanwhile, released a statement regarding Tuesday’s sentence commutations. “Clemency is an extraordinary remedy, granted only after the President has concluded that a particular individual as demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance.”