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Obama Commutes Most of Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

In one of the final moves of his presidency, Barack Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence officer serving 35 years behind bars for giving classified documents to WikiLeaks.

The New York Times reports Manning, 29, is set to be freed this May 17 instead of in 2045 as sentenced. In July 2013 the former intelligence analyst, then known as Bradley Manning, was convicted of 19 charges, including violating the 1917 Espionage Act. Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, which could have resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment.

The military will now also be spared the difficulties associated with incarcerating Manning, who has successfully fought for treatment for her gender dysphoria — including sex reassignment surgery — with which it has no precedent for treating. Manning, who twice tried kill herself last year, was incarcerated at the all-male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Manning was also held in solitary confinement — recognized my many courts and experts as a form of torture — before even being convicted of any crime, subjected to sleep deprivation and deprived of basic comfort items. This promoted the United Nations special rapporteur on torture to launch an investigation, which concludedManning’s imprisonment “constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.”

NBC News reports more than 117,000 people had signed a petition asking President Obama to shorten Manning’s sentence, with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is exiled in Russia and is also seeking a pardon and faces an uncertain future under a Trump administration with closer ties to Moscow, urging Obama to free her outright. Last week, White House spokesman Josh Earnest stoked the hopes of Manning and her supporters when he said there was a “stark difference” between Manning and Snowden, who Earnest said had committed crimes that were “far more serious and far more dangerous.”

Manning maintained she did not believe the documents leaked to WikiLeaks would harm the United States and that she wanted to bring public attention to US misdeeds committed during the war against terrorism. Among the material in the leaked documents were files detailing US and allied atrocities and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as documents proving that 150 innocent men and boys were knowingly imprisoned in the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay on orders of the highest-ranking members of the Bush administration. The leaked files also detail US cover-ups of child rape, torture, the killing of civilians in countries against which the United States has not declared hostilities, the killing of journalists, State Department spying on US allies and the UN, and other offenses.

While the architects and perpetrators of many of the crimes revealed by Manning and WikiLeaks have gone unpunished or have even been protected by the US government under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has chosen to aggressively pursue those who blow the whistle on such crimes, raising global alarm over US hypocrisy. Manning’s case divided national opinion, with many Americans viewing him as a traitor, while millions of others consider him a whistleblower and a champion of transparency.

Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has been championed by past whistleblowers including former US military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers proving the Lyndon B. Johnson administration lied to Congress and the American people about US involvement in the Vietnam War. Ellsberg called Manning “an extraordinary American who went on record and acted on his awareness that it was wrong for us to be killing foreigners,” adding he believed Manning “saved lives.” However, many conservative US politicians, pundits and right-wing media branded Manning a traitor, with some even calling for his execution.

WikiLeaks tweeted last week that founder Julian Assange, who has been exiled in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since August 2012, would agree to be extradited to the United States if Obama granted clemency to Manning. After the commutation was announced, WikiLeaks tweeted “everything that [Assange] has said he’s standing by.”

In addition to commuting Manning’s sentence, President Obama granted a second chance to 273 additional individuals on Tuesday — including 64 presidential pardons. “President Obama’s 1,385 commutation grants – which includes 504 life sentences – is also more than the total number of commutations issued by the past 12 presidents combined,” the White House said in a blog post.

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