Chelsea Manning, the army soldier who leaked state secrets in 2010 and has been imprisoned longer than any other official leaker in US history, has called on President Obama to show her clemency in the final days of his presidency, saying that this amounts to her last chance for freedom “for a very long time”.
With nine days left for the Obama presidency, Manning is reportedly on Obama’s “shortlist” for a commutation of her sentence, according to NBC News.
Time is running out for Manning, who has already been incarcerated for six years for leaking hundreds of thousands of war logs, embassy cables and videos that cast light on the nature of modern warfare. It is presumed that the incoming president, Donald Trump, would be unlikely to look favorably on her case and that under him her 35-year sentence would be left to run its course.
Manning told the Guardian that the petition she made to Obama in November was “the last real chance to make my case to go home for a very long time”. She said that the appeal she filed against her sentence last May would take many years to work its way through the courts.
And in an emotional plea for mercy from Obama, she added: “I have spent almost all of my adult life either homeless, in the military or in prison. I haven’t had the chance to live my life yet.”
Until he steps down on 20 January, Obama has presidential power under the US constitution either to fully pardon individuals who have been convicted of crimes, or to commute their sentences, and many others are hoping they will be the beneficiaries of that power. Manning’s appeal lawyer, Nancy Hollander, said it was time for the president to act before it was too late by reducing the sentence to the six years she has already served.
“Chelsea has already been incarcerated longer than any other whistleblower. She is fragile. The army has an obligation to care for its soldiers yet has utterly failed her. It has failed to take care of her, and it is still failing to do so, and it needs to let her out.”
Chase Strangio, the ACLU lawyer who is representing Manning in a transgender rights lawsuit, said releasing her would secure Obama’s legacy of “standing up for trans people’s rights”.
“The Obama administration has done many commendable things to protect the rights of LGBTQ people, but in the case of Chelsea Manning they have systematically mistreated her and denied her access to medically recommended gender-related healthcare,” said Strangio. “Chelsea won’t survive another five years in prison, much less another 30.”
The initial attempts by Manning and her lawyers to press for a presidential commutation did not go well. The day after the soldier put in her clemency petition in November, the pardon office of the Department of Justice rebuffed the application on grounds that requests for commutations in military cases had to be handled by the army.
Then on 13 December, the office of the judge advocate general (JAG) that handles military cases and that had also been sent a copy of the Manning petition to keep the military chiefs in the loop also rejected it. In a letter, JAG officials said that the army was unable to consider any request for clemency in cases involving sentences of 30 years or more until the individual had served at least 10 years.
But Manning’s lawyers see the negative response of both the DoJ and the army as missing the point – they say their clemency petition is with Obama directly. On 28 November they sent the petition to the general counsel of the White House, Neil Eggleston. “The White House is in full possession of the petition and we believe that President Obama can and should use his constitutional powers to commute Chelsea’s sentence to time served,” Hollander said.
In December, more than 100,000 supporters of the army private signed an online petition on the White House website calling for her to be released. Under guidelines set up by Obama himself, any petition that secures that number of signatories earns an automatic White House response within 60 days.
In Manning’s case, the 60 days falls after Obama leaves office, and there has been no indication so far whether the administration will speed up its response. The Guardian asked the White House for an update on both the online petition and on Manning’s clemency appeal, but received no reply.