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Chelsea Manning Decision Gives Supporters Reason to Cheer

Obama administration commutes majority of sentence following sustained pressure from social movements.

Photo Credit: Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea herself, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network

The Obama administration announced Tuesday afternoon that it will commute the majority of the remaining sentence of whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, and she will reportedly be freed in May 2017 along with the political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

One of 209 commutations granted by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, the decision follows a mounting public pressure campaign from social movements around the world, in which Manning emerged as an outspoken defender of human rights while enduring solitary confinement and denial of health care in the hands of the U.S. military. For years, Manning’s backers have marched through the streets, appealed to the Obama administration and organized direct support for the jailed whistle blower while she endured torture.

“Since she was first taken into custody, Chelsea has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and has been denied access to medically necessary health care,” said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project representing Manning, in a press statement immediately following the White House’s announcement. “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.”

Manning has already suffered more than six years of imprisonment as part of her 35-year sentence and is currently held in an all-male military prison, even though she identifies as woman. United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez determined in 2012 that the United States is guilty of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” for holding her in solitary confinement for nearly a year.

Manning is recognized internationally as a hero for releasing to WikiLeaks key State Department Cables, the Afghanistan War Diary, Iraq War Logs, and Collateral Murder video exposing U.S. war crimes, killing of civilians and lies to the public. In a 10,000-word statement she read at her pretrial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland in February 2013, Manning declared: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Manning's supporters have maintained that she has suffered a stiff prison sentence, harsh detention and torture in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the U.S. government. They have repeatedly called for her immediate release.

Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future who is in regular contact with Manning said in a press statement, “As someone who has become friends with Chelsea over the last year, but has never had a chance to see her face or give her a hug, I'm overjoyed that she will be able to share her beautiful self with the world. She has so much to offer, and her freedom will be a testament to the power of grassroots organizing. I’m so excited for the world to get to know her as the compassionate, intelligent, and kind person who she is.”

Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi said, “The government tortured Chelsea by subjecting her to extended solitary confinement, denying her medical care, punishing her for attempting suicide, and forcing her to serve her time in an all-male prison. She has already served longer than any other whistleblower in United States history, and continued imprisonment would likely have been fatal for her. It is time for Chelsea to come home and be free of abusive confinement.”

As recently as March of 2016, Manning wrote an article in which she asked, “When will the US government stop persecuting whistleblowers?” She warned, “In the months following the US government’s initial charges against me over the release of government records in 2010, the current administration formed the National Insider Threat Task Force under the authority of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several other US government agencies. The mission of this taskforce is breathtakingly broad. It aims at deterring threats to national security by anyone 'who misuses or betrays, wittingly or unwittingly, his or her authorized access to any US Government resource.' Unfortunately, the methods it outlines amount to thousands of government personnel being effectively under total surveillance."

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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