Rights Group Blasts Obama Administration's 'Unconscionable' Treatment of Chelsea Manning

In a surprise move by the Obama administration, US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning had her decades-long prison sentence commuted on Tuesday, January 17.


Human rights and civil liberties organizations applauded the president for moving to free Manning. But a leading international rights group criticized the US government for repressing the whistleblower in the first place—and for its hypocrisy in addressing the information she leaked.

In a statement released Tuesday, Amnesty International pointed out that Manning provided evidence of potential crimes under international law that were committed by the US military.

The leading human rights group called the punishment of Manning "unconscionable" in light of other US military officials' impunity. It also accused the Obama administration of "punishing the messenger."

In 2013, Manning was sentenced, on 21 offenses, to 35 years in a maximum security prison. Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning before coming out as transgender, had leaked more than 700,000 classified documents to the whistleblowing group WikiLeaks. The files she unearthed included videos showing atrocities committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to more than 100 civilian deaths.

“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for years,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

“President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue," Huang added. "It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”

The Obama administration and critics of Manning previously claimed the whistleblower endangered the lives of US military forces abroad by releasing classified materials. The official who led the Pentagon's investigation into the impact of WikiLeaks' release admitted in Manning's hearing, nevertheless, that they had been unable to identify anyone injured because of the leak. The Associated Press reached a similar conclusion.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, called on the US government to investigate the atrocities exposed by whistleblowers like Manning.

“Instead of punishing the messenger, the U.S. government can send a strong signal to the world that it is serious about investigating the human rights violations exposed by the leaks and bringing all those suspected of criminal responsible to justice in fair trials,”  said Guevara-Rosas.

The human rights organization emphasized that Manning's lengthy prison sentence is significantly longer than those of members of the military who have been convicted for such violent crimes as murder, rape and wartime atrocities.

Indeed sexual violence has emerged as a systemic problem in the US military, and rights groups have said there has been little accountability for those who engage in such crimes.

Amnesty International likewise noted that Manning's punishment was much worse than those of other military officials who have been convicted of leaking classified materials to the public. The rights group did not name anyone but may have been alluding to General David Petraeus.

Petraeus, who led US forces in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and who also served as the former director of the CIA, resigned in disgrace in 2012. Media reports exposed how the then-CIA chief had given classified materials to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Moreover, during her trial, Manning was not permitted to present evidence that she had been acting in the public interest, Amnesty International noted. There were due process complications with the judicial proceedings as well.

During her detention, Manning's rights were further violated. The whistleblower was held in pre-trial solitary confinement for nearly a year. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture said in 2012 that Manning's treatment was cruel and inhuman.

The US government also denied needed gender transition treatment to Manning when she came out as transgender, Amnesty International highlighted.

During her imprisonment, Manning attempted suicide twice. She also went on hunger strike, accusing the prison and government of "bullying" her.

Amnesty International concluded its statement noting that it has additionally been calling on President Obama to use his executive powers to pardon National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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