Welcome Manning’s Scheduled Release from Prison — Condemn Her Outrageous Seven-Year Imprisonment
On January 17, President Obama announced that he was commuting the 35-year sentence of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.1 Manning is scheduled to be released in May 2017, rather than 2045.
As of May, Manning will have served seven years in a series of prisons, 11 months of it in 23-hour-a-day isolation that a UN Special Rapporteur on torture deemed “cruel and inhumane.” She has been denied critically needed medical care related to being a trans woman, and reportedly driven by this abuse to two suicide attempts.
Putting Her Life on the Line to Expose U.S. Crimes
Chelsea Manning was a U.S. soldier and intelligence analyst, stationed in Iraq in 2009, with access to files revealing war crimes committed during the U.S. occupation.
In 2010, Manning put her life on the line by providing these files to WikiLeaks (after the New York Times and Washington Post expressed little interest) so as to incite, in her words, “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”
Manning said at the time: “This is one of the most significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.” And she was right!
- Widespread torture in Iraqi prisons overseen by the U.S. occupiers. “[B]eatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports… other cases produced accounts of the execution of bound detainees”; the Americans treated these horrors with “the equivalent of an institutional shrug.” (New York Times, 10/22/2010)
- That U.S. officials secretly counted 66,000 civilian deaths as a result of the invasion and occupation, at the same time that the U.S. was publicly giving vastly lower estimates.
- Mass murder from above: Manning released “Collateral Murder ”—video of a U.S. helicopter crew systematically gunning down unarmed and unthreatening Iraqi civilians in the street, including young children, laughing and joking as they did so, puncturing the propaganda about American troops being “the good guys” in Iraq.
Stung by this act of incredible courage, the Obama administration came down on Chelsea like a ton of bricks. A lynch-mob atmosphere was whipped up against her, including open discussion of charging her with treason—a crime which can carry the death penalty—although she was never actually charged with treason. Obama publicly stated that she “broke the law” before she had even been tried. She was illegally held in solitary confinement for 11 months of the three years she spent awaiting trial. When, in the face of this she pleaded guilty to lesser charges, the prosecution ignored that and took her to trial on heavier ones, convicting her on most, and she was sentenced to 35 years in military prison.
This was, by far, the longest sentence ever given to anyone for leaking documents to the media. Even people who leaked actual military secrets—including General Petraeus—have received sentences of no more than one-to-three years.
But Manning’s “crime” was not the release of actual military secrets—it was that she ripped the covers off the war crimes of the U.S. military in Iraq. That, to Obama and the whole system, was completely outrageous, and an example had to be made of her. (And Obama would go on to break all records for prosecuting “whistle-blowers.”)
Even after sentencing, the persecution of Chelsea Manning continued. Although the Army accepted a psychiatric diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” (meaning that she does not identify with her biological gender), Chelsea had to fight tooth and nail for even minimal recognition of her status as a woman, for hormone therapy necessary to her transition to being a biological female, and for sex reassignment surgery, which she is still being denied.
In short, Chelsea Manning is a hero who put her life on the line for the betterment of humanity. She should never have spent one minute behind bars and, in fact, any society even attempting to achieve a just and decent world would celebrate Chelsea Manning’s courage and treat her as a role model for young children.
People have to be alert and defend Manning’s safety during the coming months—all the more so if the fascist Trump regime comes to power. And when she is freed, that will be cause for real celebration among justice-loving people. But the act of—finally—releasing her will never wipe away the crime of her seven years of imprisonment, much less the even greater crimes against the Iraqi people that Chelsea Manning dared to expose.
This article originally appeared on revcom.us.
1. In August 2013 Manning issued this statement: “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.” So throughout article we refer to her as “Chelsea” and as “she,” even in reference to the time when she was publicly identified as “Bradley” and as “he.”