Chelsea Manning will be leaving the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Wednesday 17 May 2017 – free to embark on a new chapter in her young life. Almost exactly 7 years of incarceration for the whistleblower and rights activist will come to an end after commutation of her sentence by the out-going president, Barack Obama, confirmed 17 January 2017.
This amazing news is a dramatic turnaround for Chelsea and her family, after the years of exceptionally unjust and harsh treatment that has marked her time in detention, and for all those who have campaigned for and supported Chelsea over the past 7 years.
Chelsea’s Welsh-Irish family issued the following statement in response to the announcement from Washington:
We are all overjoyed that Chelsea will soon be free.
Chelsea exposed wrongdoing and was punished for being a whistleblower. We regret that it has taken so long for President Obama to commute the sentence and are outraged that Chelsea has been forced to endure such abusive treatment in prison. We agree with the UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez that some of this abuse amounted to torture.
We sincerely hope that Chelsea will now be able to get on with the rest of her life and that she finds happiness and fulfilment in whatever she chooses to do. There will always be a welcome for her here in Wales.
We will not be giving any interviews to the media and ask to be left in peace and for our privacy to be respected.
Chelsea herself has communicated the following messages, expressing thanks for Obama’s decision, thanks to her supporters – and of the hope of being able to return to Maryland upon release:
Commutation is a reduction of a sentence, not a full reduction in this case, and is not a pardon. It does “not change the fact of conviction, imply innocence, or remove civil disabilities that apply to the convicted person” in US law. Obama’s order, in the very last days of his tenure, and far from the most favourable of possible outcomes for Chelsea, does at least acknowledge her cruel treatment and “very disproportionate” sentence. Tellingly, Obama’s explanation for the decision places significant emphasis on the deterrent nature of Manning’s prosecution, something he himself compromised by statements made ahead of her trial. Obama opened the explanation of his decision thus:
Let’s be clear, Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence, so the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served. It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received, and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made sense to commute, not pardon her sentence. I feel very comfortable that justice has been served…..
A full video of the press statement, which includes references to WikiLeaks is below:
Obama’s decision appears to directly address some of the points raised in Chelsea’s clemency appeal entered in November. Thanks must go to Nancy Hollander and her team, and others who contributed to putting together the submission. A recent online White House petition garnering some 117,000 signatures asking for a time-served commutation may also have swayed opinion, Unsurprisingly, US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, is reported to have opposed the commutation. But he has had his day – good riddance. The outcome is of course a culmination of 7 years of action and solidarity by thousands of people around the world who saw the simple injustice in Manning’s case, the hope in her acts of conscience, the threat in her prosecution.
Debate about the details of the decision, and its motivation are perhaps for another time. Amidst all the uncertainty, confusion and concern around current US politics is the little golden nugget of hope that is Chelsea Manning and the joyous thought that in a matter of weeks, she will be free. These will be long weeks no doubt. Knowing the bitterness and hostility she faces in US military custody her ordeal is on-going and far from over. The letters, cards and messages of support should keep being sent, and her legal team and friends need to keep in contact until the release day arrives. Then a new chapter with new challenges and a hope that this bright, compassionate, courageous young woman can become all that she wants to be; all that she could have been these past 7 years.
Chelsea Manning’s freedom should never have been denied, it is long overdue, but it is coming, and that is a wonderful thought.