Chelsea Manning is scheduled to be released from Fort Leavenworth, a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kans., on Wednesday. In January, then-President Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year prison sentence. She had requested clemency.
Pvt. Chelsea Manning will leave a military prison in Kansas and return to civilian life Wednesday, seven years after she was taken into custody for what is seen as the largest leak of classified data in U.S. history.
The 35-year prison sentence Manning received as punishment for that crime was described as unprecedented when it was handed down. Before he left office, President Obama shortened the sentence to seven years.
In court, Manning had pleaded guilty to leaking secret information — but she was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, in July of 2013.
On the morning of Manning’s scheduled release, a fundraising campaign for her post-release expenses met its goal of raising $150,000. The fund was set up by her lawyer, Chase Strangio of the ACLU. Separately, musician Michael Stipe has led the release of a benefit album whose proceeds will go to the former soldier.
Military personnel at the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where Manning has been held have not released many details about her release that’s scheduled for sometime Wednesday. Manning’s support team at the American Civil Liberties Union is also providing few details, citing her need for privacy and time to adjust. They’ve said she plans to live in Maryland, where she has family.
Among the records Manning has admitted to passing on to WikiLeaks was a video showing a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 11 men and 750,000 classified documents that contained military and diplomatic dispatches.
Rights groups have sharply criticized the way the government handled Manning’s case; they also faulted the official response to what Amnesty International USA calls “possible war crimes committed by the military” that are depicted in the records she released.
U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, seen here in an undated handout photo, will be released from a military prison on Wednesday.
“Chelsea’s treatment is especially galling given that nobody has been held accountable for the alleged crimes that she brought to light,” says Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “While we celebrate her freedom, we will continue to call for an independent investigation into the potential human rights violations she exposed, and for protections to be put in place to ensure whistleblowers like Chelsea are never again subjected to such appalling treatment.”
Arrested in 2010, Manning had been serving in Iraq and was known as Bradley Manning. After her conviction, she announced she was a transgender woman and changed her name to Chelsea. Manning is walking out of prison early because then-President Obama commuted her sentence in January.
Steven Nelson, of U.S. News and World Report, talked to NPR’s All Things Considered on Sunday:
“Part of the reason that the White House justified granting her clemency was because it was so much longer than other recent leak sentences. In a lot of the cases, people plead guilty and get maybe a year in prison. But 35 years really shocked people. And the seven years that had already been served was seen as enough by the Obama White House.”
Nelson also told host Mary Louise Kelly that there’s a difference between Manning’s case and that of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, who leaked information.
“Manning as a 22-year-old wanted to spark a broad worldwide discussion of various injustices she perceived in scandals, whereas Snowden who had access to more highly classified documents had a very specific policy debate he wanted to start about surveillance. And he left the country, rather than be arrested.
“When the Obama administration was preparing to grant Manning clemency, they drew the distinction that Manning had faced trial, that Manning had expressed some degree of contrition. Snowden, of course, is totally unrepentant, feels he did the right thing. So that’s a real distinction. He hasn’t been tried, he’s not sorry, and Manning was both.”
While in prison, Manning has had to transition as a woman in a male military prison. She has tried to commit suicide twice.
Bust since her impending release was announced, Manning’s outlook has gotten brighter. Last week she released a statement saying:
“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts. I am forever grateful to the people who kept me alive, President Obama, my legal team and countless supporters.
“I watched the world change from inside prison walls and through the letters that I have received from veterans, trans young people, parents, politicians and artists. My spirits were lifted in dark times, reading of their support, sharing in their triumphs, and helping them through challenges of their own. I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others.”