Justice

One of Obama's Last Moves As President Just Took Effect

May 16th 2017

By:
Charles Davis

Chelsea Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of leaking diplomatic cables and classified information about the war in Iraq, was released from a military prison on Wednesday after 7 years behind bars — after being called an “ungrateful traitor” by President Donald Trump.

chelsea

In May 2010, Manning, 22 years old and serving as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq, was arrested and accused of leaking a classified video showing U.S. soldiers opening fire on civilians in Baghdad, killing a dozen. Manning also leaked documents showing that over 15,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in unacknowledged incidents, bringing the direct civilian death toll from the war to over 66,000, according to the U.S. military’s internal count (independent counts are significantly higher).

After being arrested, Manning was held in solitary confinement for 11 months, conditions that constituted, “at a minimum, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” in the words of Juan Mendez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture (she was placed in solitary again after a suicide attempt last year). In August 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison, after which she came out as a transgender woman, sparking a fight with the Pentagon, which initially refused to provide her access to treatment for her gender dysphoria.

Manning is only free today because her sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama during his final days in office, a decision blasted as “weak” by then-President-elect Trump, who at the time believed releasing classified information was an act of treason.

After her sentence was commuted, the ACLU’s Chase Strangio launched a “welcome home” fundraiser to help cover the costs of Manning’s freedom, raising over $138,000.

“Leaving prison is not going to be easy and Chelsea is going to have to face the collateral consequences of her convictions and the effects of all that she endured in prison,” Strangio told ATTN: in February. “Resources are essential for her if she is going to have a chance to live safely and freely.”

Safety is of paramount concern given the charge of “treason” lodged against her by the current president. Her punishment will also continue in another sense: as Manning is still an active-duty soldier, she will continue to be subjected to the jurisdiction of the military, David Coombs, Manning's lawyer, told NBC News.

“You would want to be careful in terms of what you want to write or say if you’re still under military control,” Coombs added. (Manning is a contributor to The Guardian). “Let’s say you write something critical, now you run the real chance of being called on the carpet for that.” Indeed, criticizing the commander-in-chief, Donald Trump, could be construed as insubordination, though she was critical of President Obama while in military custody.

Manning’s supporters say that — despite the fact she exposed wrongdoing, up to and including war crimes — the government has made an example out of her to discourage future, unofficial leaks.

“The U.S. authorities’ vindictive treatment of Chelsea Manning after she exposed potential military wrongdoing is a sad reflection of the extremes those in power often go to in order to deter others from speaking out,” Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a May 17 press release.

“While we celebrate her freedom,” Huang said, “we will continue to call for an independent investigation into the potential human rights violations she exposed, and for protections to be put in place to ensure whistleblowers like Chelsea are never again subjected to such appalling treatment.”