With just days to go before he leaves office, President Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. When Manning was sentenced in 2013 after being convicted on six accounts of violating the Espionage Act, along with 14 other charges, her sentence became the longest punishment ever imposed on a whistleblower in the history of the United States. She will now be released on 17 May 2017 after more than seven years in detention.
IFEX members, as well as the Chelsea Manning Support Network, United Nations experts and countless others had written letters to the US government asking for Manning to be freed. After her sentencing, Manning came out as transgender while in military detention. In addition to the extreme length of her sentence, the military's denial and postponement of treatment for her gender dysphoria, as well as her time in solitary confinement – described by the UN as torture – contributed to Manning decisions to attempt suicide more than once while being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
Last week NBC reported that Manning had been put on Obama's short list for sentence commutation. Since the decision this week, reactions have been divided – those on the conservative right are mainly negative, while the free expression community is celebrating the news.
Chase Strangio, one of Chelsea Manning's lawyers:
What a day. My clients are heroes. What an honor to do this work. https://t.co/hlui6Z6p3W— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) January 18, 2017
Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama. https://t.co/IeumTasRNN— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 17, 2017
Jesselyn Radack, Lawyer who represents numerous whistleblowers:
Glenn Greenwald, Journalist and lawyer:
Beyond the whistleblowing, ponder Manning's courage: she publicly announced her transition in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 17, 2017
As many of these voices suggest, in addition to Manning's release there is a lot more that the US government and the Obama administration could have done to improve its record on transparency and the treatment of whistleblowers. Once he leaves office this week, will people remember Obama's act of clemency, or the administration that oversaw more prosecutions under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined?