People Are Asking Pres. Obama to Free This Trans Woman Before Trump Takes Office

January 11th 2017

Lucy Tiven

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning is on the "short list" to have her prison sentence commuted during President Barack Obama's last days in office, an unnamed source from the Justice Department told NBC News.

Manning, a transgender woman, fought for years to obtain to treatment for gender dysphoria under the Obama administration, with the military only reluctantly granting her requests for care. Her treatment and civil rights risk being further jeopardized under President-elect Donald Trump, who has railed against "political correctness" in the armed forces, lending urgency to the campaign to commute her sentence.

The former army intelligence analyst has served six of the 35 years she was sentenced to for leaking classified information in 2010 that revealed diplomatic conversations as well as evidence of possible war crimes.

Perhaps most famously, Manning leaked video of 2007 incident in Baghdad where U.S. forces killed civilians and wounded children, as The Guardian reported. The revelations made Manning a polarizing figure: hailed as a hero by transparency advocates and condemned as a traitor by prosecutors and critics.

chelsea manning

In November 2016, Manning petitioned the president to commute her sentence to time served, and her attorneys sent a letter (PDF) to DOJ pardon attorney Robert A. Zauzmer asking that she be granted clemency. The petition has over 115,000 signatures at time of writing.

Manning came out as transgender after she was sentenced in 2013 and has since shed light on the conditions facing incarcerated transgender women.

Manning was held in solitary confinement for the year leading up to her trial — treatment the United Nations condemned as "cruel and unusual" punishment in a 2012 report.

Incarcerated in a men's prison, Manning has fought hard to obtain access to hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery, requests that were granted in February 2015 and September 2016, respectively. The surgery request was granted days after after Manning began on a hunger strike in protest of her treatment behind bars as part of a larger move to provide transgender military personnel with medical care and allow them to serve openly, The New Republic reported.

“Although the federal government has argued outside of the prison context that transgender women are women and transgender men are men, when it comes to treatment in custody, our government seems to believe it is just to strip away one’s core humanity as part of the punishment of incarceration,” ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio told The Daily Beast in September.

prison block

Manning attempted to commit suicide in July 2016, for which she was punished with solitary confinement, and again in October. Manning's lawyers told the New York Times this confinement would only exacerbate her mental health issues.

With Trump's inauguration looming, Manning's commutation would be a huge victory for transparency advocates and LGBT rights.

Despite championing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose website published the material leaked by Manning, President-elect Trump has not praised Manning or other whistleblowers. Indeed, he even called for the execution of Edward Snowden in a 2014 tweet.

Advocates worry the Trump administration will  not only fail to commute Manning's sentence, but also roll back recent reforms concerning the treatment of transgender people in the armed forces.

From The New Republic:

"If the incoming administration reverses course on transgender service-members in the military, Strangio confirmed, the current rationale behind granting Manning the right to have gender confirming surgery would disappear. 'She would probably be the first person to lose care,' he said, 'given that prisoners get worse treatment than members of the general population.'"

In an October town hall event in Virginia, Trump argued the military had gotten "too politically correct," a remark that came after the Obama administration's decision to lift the ban on transgender people openly serving in the military.