A petition to commute whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s 37-year prison sentence has received over 100,000 signatures, hitting the target needed to prompt a response from the White House.
Manning, a former United States Army soldier whose leak of classified files lead to the exposure of human rights abuses by the US Army, including the death of two Reuters reporters, is in her eighth year of incarceration. By surpassing the 100, 000 signature threshold, the petition, created on November 14, could expect a response from the White House within 60 days. Manning, who has spent more time in imprisonment than any whistleblower in US history, tweeted: “We did it! Thank you so much for your love and support. =)”.
The petition mentioned that Manning had been incarcerated in “unlawful, unusually harsh solitary confinement for 11 months before her trial”. It appealed to President Obama, who has 38 days left in office before Donald Trump takes over, to commute Manning’s sentence to time already served. The Free Chelsea Campaign appealed to citizens to continue sharing and signing the petition till the 14th of December to mobilise enough support for the White House to take notice. “The next steps are organizing birthday parties around the world for Chelsea’s birthday this Saturday. We will continue to raise awareness and hope that more people will call upon President Obama to respond”, a spokesperson for the campaign told Westminster World. On November 18th of this year, Manning’s lawyers submitted a 27-page application for sentence commutation.
Amnesty International UK, who have been campaigning for Manning’s release, have expressed their support for the petition. Amnesty UK’s Urgent Actions Coordinator, Rebecca Dallison told Westminster World: “Unless President Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s sentence before he leaves office in a few weeks, Chelsea’s future looks extremely bleak.”
“Commuting her sentence would also go some way to mitigating the chilling effect Chelsea’s jailing will have had on other potential whistleblowers in the United States. As well as releasing Chelsea Manning, the US authorities should set about properly investigating the apparent human rights abuses that were made public by her original disclosures”, she added.
The information leaked by Manning formed the basis of the 2010 Wikileaks video titled “Collateral Murder”, which showed a US Apache helicopter bombing a locality in Iraq, causing the deaths of unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary, published by Wikileaks from Manning’s whistleblowing, also revealed uninvestigated instances of torture, contractor abuse and a large number of civilian causalities not admitted by the US government.
Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified US Army intelligence to Wikileaks. The 1917 Espionage Act states that any citizen who disseminates information that “intended to interfere with the U.S. armed forces prosecution of the war effort or to promote the success of the country’s enemies,” could be sentenced to prison for a maximum 20 years.
Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges and was charged with 17. The day after her sentencing, in a statement, Manning revealed that she was transgender and wished to undergo hormone replacement therapy. She is currently incarcerated in U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, a maximum security all-male prison.
On September 9th of this year, Manning began a hunger strike to demand “minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity”, which included medication for her gender dysphoria. On September 13th, the Army agreed to provide Manning with gender re-assignment surgery.
Jason Rosenberg, an activist on Twitter who has been supporting the Free Chelsea Manning campaign, said that part of the success of the petition was due to support from the ACLU and other LGBT organizations such as the National LGBTQ Task Force, Transgender Law Center, Lamda Legal and others. He added, “There is urgency involved- she should get released under President Obama. We do know how transphobic how the potential administration can be, so it is unclear how the new POTUS would respond to whistleblowers and political prisoners.”
The American Civil Liberties Union along with over a dozen LGBT groups had appealed to President Barack Obama in a statement earlier, requesting the commutation of Manning’s sentence. The letter highlighted how, despite identifying as transgender, Manning has been forced to serve her sentence in an all-male prison. “While the armed forces have finally opened the door to transgender men and women who wish to serve, the government has continually fought Ms. Manning’s efforts to be treated with basic dignity.”
In an Amnesty special interview with Chelsea Manning called “In Their Own Words”, Manning detailed the psychological trauma she endured from the nature of her work in US military. In the interview she says, “At some point, the work that I did stopped feeling like an abstract and intellectual chore, and began to become very real. These were real people living in real places. It often became a burden for me when we made mistakes or overlooked things like the Iraqi government detaining people under false pretenses, and torturing their citizens because they wanted to make an example. A part of me still takes their suffering personally.”
Daniel Ellsberg, a former US military analyst and whistleblower charged with the Espionage Act for leaking the Pentagon Papers, have been among those campaigning for Manning’s release.
Michael Stipe, of the alternative rock band R.E.M. has also released a video protesting Manning’s incarceration: