By: Marta A.
Among all the news coming from the United States in 2017 this was particularly good news (depending on your perspective). Four days to the end of his second term, President Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence, meaning that she is expected to leave her prison cell in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on the 17 of May 2017 instead of in 2045.
Now, lets back up a little bit, how did this all happen? In 2009, Manning was deployed to Baghdad as an intelligence analyst for the US Army where she gained access to US classified information. After chatting with an online hacker, Adrian Lamo, she came to the decision to leak material to WikiLeaks including, but not limited to the “collateral murder video” showing how a US helicopter killed civilians in a 2007 Baghdad airstrike as well as the 251,287 US diplomatic cables, the “Iraq War Logs” and the “Afghan War Diary.” In May 2010, Adrian Lamo revealed to the FBI the chat logs exposing that Manning was the one that had leaked the documents – she was arrested in Iraq. She was charged of many things, the most important one being the violation of the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 to prevent soldiers from turning against the US and backing their enemies. As we often see in politics, this law is now used by the US governments against whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. From July 2010 to April 2011, she was held in solitary confinement before the travel was even held. In the end she was convicted to 35 years of prison. The treatment of Chelsea Manning before and after her trial was, in the words of a United Nations Special Rapporteur, “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. In 2016, she attempted suicide twice and went on a hunger strike to protest in favor of a gender-reassignment surgery as she is a female transgender woman forced to stay in an all-male prison. To learn more about her treatment, which can be considered torture as well as her story, I encourage to look it up online as it is a very complex legal case that I do not have the expertise to address. Furthermore, I would like to focus on the issues she and her case brought to the spotlight.
First of all, there is the twisting of words by a democratic president such as Obama. When explaining his decision to commute Manning he said she had “served a tough prison sentence,” not mentioning the solitary confinement nor the torture. Furthermore, he said he felt “comfortable that justice has been served.” This case just makes it clear who really holds power. One could infer that the US is not really the land of the free.
On the bright side, Manning will soon be free and this can be seen in her tweets such as this one “105 days and a wake up =) To soft sheets, puffy blankets, and foam pillows. ^_^.” Finally she will be free thanks to Obama (kind of, but it could all have been avoided initially).