Obama grants WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning her freedom

18 Jan 2017

Campaigners marching to free Chelsea Manning. Image: Lee Snider Photo Images/Shutterstock

Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier and WikiLeaks whistleblower, has had her 35-year prison sentence commuted by US president Barack Obama in a final act of clemency before he leaves office.

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning exposed the nature of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison and was discharged from the US army for her role in exposing the actions of the US military in the above countries.

‘Even from solitary confinement, Manning provided a unique perspective on foreign affairs, surveillance, incarceration, and gender identity through her essays and tweets’

This was the longest sentence ever to be imposed on a whistleblower in US history.

In what is one of the final acts by Barack Obama just days before he leaves office, Manning has had her 35-year sentence commuted and will be freed on 17 May.

Manning, now seen as a transgender champion for internet freedom, was originally Bradley Manning but was diagnosed with gender identity disorder while in the US army.

Warfare exposed

Manning, who had passed 700,000 pages of revelatory material about US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks, was convicted on a number of charges, including several violations of the Espionage Act of 1917. However, Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge: aiding the enemy.

The material she passed to WikiLeaks included videos of the Baghdad airstrike on 12 July 2007 and the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan, as well as 250,000 US diplomatic cables and 500,000 US army reports, known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghanistan War Logs.

Manning was arrested after a computer hacker called Adrian Lamo informed the FBI of Manning’s claims that she was responsible for the leaks.

The news of Manning having her sentence commuted was welcomed by various civil liberties and lobbying groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

“Even from solitary confinement, Manning provided a unique perspective on foreign affairs, surveillance, incarceration, and gender identity through her essays and tweets. We look forward to her rejoining us in the free world and fulfilling her full potential – right alongside us,” the EFF said.

The commuting of Manning’s sentence has not been welcomed by all in the US. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, said: “This is just outrageous. Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”

With just two days in office, who knows what Obama may do next. Could it be possible that whistleblower Edward Snowden, who exposed the high degree of surveillance by the NSA on ordinary internet users and now lives in exile in Russia, could be granted a pardon?

Campaigners marching to free Chelsea Manning. Image: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years