Will Obama Commute Chelsea Manning’s Sentence?

By  | 

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning is reportedly on President Barack Obama’s shortlist for a possible commutation, according to a source from the Justice Department. Manning, formerly known as Bradley, is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for leaking almost a million classified documents while working as an intelligence analyst. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition campaigning for a commutation last month, exceeding the number of signatures needed for the White House to act within 60 days.

Manning has been imprisoned since 2010. She tried to commit suicide twice while in jail and also went on a hunger strike in an attempt to receive gender reassignment surgery. This request was eventually granted. Her critics have called her a traitor and many in the military view her with disdain for exposing secret U.S. military information. But still, her supporters say that what Manning revealed didn’t cause any harm to U.S. interests, only embarrassment. She also made a sincere apology before the sentencing. But the judge sentenced her to 35 years in prison—ten times longer than sentences some other whistleblowers have received.

“After this case, I had to tell Chelsea–‘I’ve represented murderers. I’ve represented rapists. I’ve represented child molesters. And none of them received 35 years,'” said defense lawyer David Coombs. Manning was also placed in solitary confinement for almost a year before the trial. In a letter accompanying the petition that was sent to President Obama, she describes a complicated family background; she was struggling with gender identity and trying to fit in while growing up, and was kicked out from her home by her father’s new wife. After being homeless for several months, her paternal aunt Deborah Manning got in touch and took her in.

Manning’s case broke almost concurrently with Edward Snowden’s–and Snowden had leaked significantly more damaging information. Four Army intelligence officers that spoke to NBC said that what Manning leaked was nothing compared to what Snowden revealed. They believe that the sentence seems exaggerated. And her aunt agrees. “I really believe the judge felt she needed to send some sort of message,” Deborah Manning said. “I think in a way she was a scapegoat for Edward Snowden.” And Snowden showed his support in a tweet.

Her aunt and Manning’s legal team have also cited the urgent need for better care, as she is suffering from gender dysphoria related anxiety, distress, and depression. Manning’s aunt said, “I would say this is someone who’s never had a chance in life, who is extremely bright, who became extremely emotionally distressed as some point, who made a bad decision, who paid for that bad decision.”

Manning spoke to VICE News through a liaison and said: “I’m staying optimistic. Regardless of the outcome, I am eternally grateful I have so much love and support out there.”

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at



Send this to friend