Last week, Chelsea Manning formally petitioned President Obama for clemency, asking him to reduce the remainder of her 35-year sentence to time served. According to the New York Times, Manning, who pleaded guilty in 2010, has been imprisoned for longer than any other whistleblower in American history.
In a statement accompanying the petition, a copy of which was provided to Jezebel, Manning said she took “full and complete responsibility” for leaking the secret military and diplomatic documents. “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.”
Most of the whistleblowers successfully prosecuted under the World War One-era Espionage Act have been sentenced to between one year and three and a half years in prison. “After accepting full responsibility for her choices, Ms. Manning was sentenced to the most severe punishment received by any other whistleblower in American history, so excessive that it even exceeds international legal norms,” said Vince Ward, a lawyer representing Manning in her court martial appeal. “President Obama has the opportunity to right this wrong and commute her sentence to time served and we hope that he’ll give Chelsea a chance to live her life after her courageous act to raise public awareness about the impact of war on innocent civilians.”
“Chelsea was bullied in the Army because she is transgender and she has faced ongoing abuses and the denial of health care since her incarceration,” said Chase Strangio, who is representing Manning in her civil suit against the Defense Department. “For years she served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and then the ban on open transgender service and she has fought to exist as the woman that she is; she deserves to be free and given the health care that she needs, not punished.”
Manning’s statement discusses her decision to enlist and her gender identity disorder at length:
The bottom-line is this: I need help and I am still not getting it. I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life. When the USDB placed me in solitary confinement as punishment for the attempted suicide, I tried it again because the feeling of hopelessness was so immense. This has served as a reminder to me that any lack of treatment can kill me, so I must keep fighting a battle that I wish every day would just end.
I have served a sufficiently long sentence. I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction. I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever. The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members.
As of early October, Obama had commuted the sentences of 774 inmates—more than the last 11 presidents combined. He has also, however, used the Espionage Act to prosecute more leaks than all of his predecessors combined.
“I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life,” Manning wrote in her letter, “as the person I was born to be.”