On May 17th, Private Chelsea Manning’s sentence for 35 years will have been commuted by Barack Obama. Private Chelsea Manning, then known as Private Bradley Manning, leaked secret military documents to WikiLeaks highlighting attacks by the U.S military on ordinary Iraqi civilians and other cases of misconduct on behalf of the military during the war on Iraq.
She was arrested in May 20th 2010 and detained in Kuwait. Suffering pre-trial torture in Arifgan under military detainment, she got transferred to the US by her lawyer where she also suffered gross misconduct which included sleep deprivation and during daylight hours, ordered to say “yes sir” every five minutes in order to sign a confession.
Her trial was on December 16th 2011, when she was found guilty of being a whistleblower under the espionage act. The US government in fact wanted a capital charge for aiding the enemy, to be found guilty of military treason. This however was not attained but the military got what they wanted. Manning’s statement at the trial spoke clearly of her motivation. About a crisis in the military. About the weakness and power of a single individual against such a powerful machine. She was also charged with computer fraud and abuse.
Once convicted she won a case for a legal name change from Bradley to Chelsea Manning and hormone treatment to treat her gender dysphoria. However there were concessions on behalf of the US Military, which was not keen for such cases to come to court and she got threatened with federal imprisonment where she would be subject to harsher conditions. She began serving her sentence in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where she remains to this day.
During her time in Fort Leavenworth, she was also subject to mistreatment being made to cut her hair and been given inadequate support for her reassignment surgery. She was put in solitary confinement for having a copy of Vogue and a book on hacking in her cell. Consequently she attempted suicide and got more time in solitary confinement. As a result she attempted suicide for the second time. Weeks later her sentence was commuted by Obama in the final days of his presidency.
The effect of commuting Manning’s sentence was negligible both to other whistleblowers and to the law affecting whistleblowers. The law applicable to whistleblowing in the US is the outdated Espionage Act which was passed in 1917 and was used eight times during Obama’s presidency — more than all other former US presidencies put together. The new Trump administration won’t reform the Act. The only hope is from whistleblowers themselves. Manning will appeal against her sentence and this is the only likely upcoming opportunity for the Espionage Act to be reformed. Donald Trump himself continues to alienate the civil service and continues to disfavour Manning to this day. Recently Trump called Manning an “UNGRATEFUL TRAITOR …WHO SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN LET OUT OF PRISON”.
The impact on other whistleblowers is absent and there seems to be no retraction for their hash treatment on behalf of the US government. The US maintains that there are no parallels between the case of Manning and that of Edward Snowden. They argue that Manning went through the justice system, unlike Snowden who escaped and sought asylum in Russia. The White House also admitted that the documents leaked by Manning, unlike Snowden, had low impacts and were not top secret. But there are striking parallels between the two cases, they both reflect the harsh treatment and unfair trial for whistleblowing on behalf of the US government. In their eyes whistleblowers are seen as villains and not as the heroes that they are.
Furthermore the legacy of Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers not only will be passed over to Trump, but is also likely to have a domino effect across the globe given the fact that the US is the only world superpower.
Moreover it is worth noting that Manning’s case was high profile with immense public support. Plays were written by amongst others, Tim Price who wrote about her pre-trial chat logs. Manning’s high profile is reflected by her treatment in prison, being treated with greater leniency to other trans-gendered inmates. Manning will continue to campaign after her release.