President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning on Tuesday, with just days left before he leaves office.
Manning, a transgender woman and former army intelligence analyst, had been convicted of stealing and disseminating over 700,000 pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks in 2010. She had been incarcerated at the men’s military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and was jailed for almost seven years. Her 35-year sentence was the longest ever imposed in the history of the United States for leaking information.
A day after her conviction, Manning came out as a transgender woman. Serving her sentence in a men’s facility, she attempted suicide on multiple occasions. She was originally denied proper treatment for her gender dysphoria, however after being pressured by an ALCU lawsuit, Manning was allowed to begin hormone therapy in 2015. She was also eventually allowed to use light cosmetics and wear female undergarments. Manning was still not allowed to socially transition or grow her hair, and she was denied gender confirmation surgery.
Manning’s sentence became the center of the debate on the treatment of transgender people in prison. Many rallied to have her released or at the very least be allowed to serve her time in a women’s prison. In early December, 17 LGBT organizations including the ACLU, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center sent a letter to President Obama asking him to commute Manning’s sentence.
Manning claimed she disclosed the classified information regarding atrocities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with the intention of “raising public awareness about issues she found concerning, including the impact of war on innocent civilians.” Her actions at the time have been said to be responsible for the rise of WikiLeaks, which has recently been a controversial force in the recent U.S. elections. In her own commutation application, Manning stated she did not realize her sentence could be 35 years because there was “no historical precedent,” and there had only been a handful of leak cases before where the sentence was 1-3 years. “I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public,” she wrote. “I have never made any excuses for what I did. I pleaded guilty without the protection of a plea agreement because I believed the military justice system would understand my motivation for the disclosure and sentence me fairly. I was wrong.”