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Excerpt: "President Obama has put Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified material, on his short list for a possible commutation, a Justice Department source told NBC News."

People hold signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015. (photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)
People hold signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015. (photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)


Chelsea Manning on Obama's 'Shortlist' to Commute Prison Sentence

By Cynthia McFadden, Kevin Monahan, William M. Arkin and Tracy Connor, NBC News

11 January 17

 

resident Obama has put Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified material, on his short list for a possible commutation, a Justice Department source told NBC News.

A decision could come as soon as Wednesday for Manning, who has tried to commit suicide twice this year and went on a hunger strike in a bid for gender reassignment surgery.

"I have more hope right now than I have the entire time since she was sentenced," Manning's aunt, Deborah Manning, told NBC News.

"I do think it's the last hope for a while."

Manning — then known as Bradley — was locked up in 2010 after swiping 700,000 military files and diplomatic cables and giving them to Wikileaks.

Prosecutors branded Manning a "traitor" seeking notoriety in the world of hackers and anarchists. Manning's lawyers painted their client as a naive whistle-blower who caused little more than mortification.

Manning pleaded guilty and before the sentencing delivered an apology to the court — and the nation. A recording of that statement is being broadcast for the first time by NBC News.

"I'm sorry," Manning said. "I'm sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that they hurt the United States."

"I understand that I must pay the price for my decisions and actions," Manning added.

Those words of contrition did not sway the military judge, who gave Manning a sentence about 10 times longer than those of recent whistle-blowers.

"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,'" defense lawyer David Coombs told NBC News.

Manning — who announced she was a transgender woman named Chelsea the day after the verdict — didn't seem to process what the sentence meant for her, her aunt said.

"I don't think it really sunk in," Deborah Manning said. "Thirty-five years is just a long thing to try to imagine, especially when you're just in your early 20s."

Manning's supporters believe the harshness of the sentence can be traced to another leaker; the scandal around former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was erupting around the same time.

"I really believe the judge felt she needed to send some sort of message," the aunt said. "I think in a way she was a scapegoat for Edward Snowden."

Snowden, who has asked Obama for clemency, tweeted his support of Manning shortly after NBC News' report about the commutation decision aired on TODAY on Wednesday morning.

Four former and current Army intelligence officers told NBC News the documents leaked by Manning pale in significance to highly classified top secret material released by Snowden. The officers, who would not allow their names to be used, said the Manning sentence seems excessive.

The Manning leak included video of a deadly 2007 air strike in Baghdad in which the U.S. helicopter crew could be heard laughing about the casualties and State Department cables with blunt comments from American diplomats.

"I don't think any harm was done," Coombs said of the disclosures. "A lot of embarrassment, certainly."

Alexa O'Brien, a freelance journalist, covered the trial and sat in the courtroom every day. She said she believes Manning did not mean to harm the U.S. and that the pre-sentence apology was genuine.

"Everything she said in that statement is completely morally and ethically consistent with what she said when she pled to 10 lesser or included offenses," O'Brien said.

Last month, more than 100,000 people signed an online petition seeking commutation of Manning's sentence, meeting the threshold for a White House response within 60 days. The American Civil Liberties Union and gay-rights groups have also been lobbying for a reprieve.

In their petition to President Obama, Manning's legal team cited the need for better medical care for gender dysphoria, a condition that includes severe distress or anxiety by some transgender people.

Manning has been receiving hormone therapy at the Leavenworth military prison and is allowed to wear women's undergarments, but a military doctor recently refused to change her gender on her Army records.

Manning's aunt said she hoped Obama would consider the former soldier's troubled upbringing, struggles with gender identity and remorse.

"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," Deborah Manning said.

"And it's time to let her go out and try to make a positive contribution in the world."

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+21 # Winston Smith II 2017-01-11 18:06
Well, let's hope Obama will release Manning. I don't think he'll live much longer in prison. Obama could make a gesture toward admitting his mistake in going so hard after whistle blowers.

Funny how I always fall for the hope and change thing with Obama. I should know better, but I still hope he'll do something good.
 
 
0 # xenonman 2017-01-12 04:36
Yes, you should know better! lol

He didn't bring on the "Millenium" like so many believed on Election Night 2008!
 
 
0 # librarian1984 2017-01-13 11:03
Manning has been tortured and should be released yesterday.

On the 20th, after the transition I hope conservatives, who said Obama would never leave the office and would confiscate all their guns, will admit maybe they were a bit paranoid.

And I hope progressives will be able to say the same in four years.
 
 
+3 # RLF 2017-01-12 05:46
Obama, who in his farewell address shamelessly talked about the importance of openness in government! Ha! It would be looked on well by history if he released Manning and pardoned Snowden. Anyone who exposed unconstitutiona l programs should be given a medal not jailed in the first place...shame on Obama!
 
 
+3 # bird 2017-01-12 08:11
While I appreciate your compassionate comment, could you please refer to Chelsea by her preferred pronoun? AS a cisgender male, I have learned how important this is to transgender folks, many of which I count among my friends and beloveds.
 
 
+16 # DongiC 2017-01-11 18:34
President O'Bama should pardon Chelsey Manning. It is the only merciful thing to do.
 
 
+15 # PaulK 2017-01-11 20:52
First, a learning moment. Chelsea Manning is a woman. She's not a man playing a woman, she's a woman.

Torturing a woman because she's a woman is more than likely some psychological disease.

Chelsea was required to stand naked for hours in the cold, in her prison. The most likely punishment for not standing would be a beating. Chelsea has tried to commit suicide in prison and then her punishment was somehow increased for the suicide attempt. All of this because she believed enough in her country's democracy to blow the whistle.

Somehow this reminds me of Cecily McMillan's fraudulent imprisonment for two months at Rikers for the sexual molestation against her.

Donald Trump of the small hands and wildly abnormal locker room talk is likely to hate this woman with even more vengeance, whether Obama lets her go or not. However, letting her go now makes punishing her much harder.
 
 
0 # Farafalla 2017-01-12 00:34
"Donald Trump of the small hands" LOL hehehe. He shall be henceforth known throughout the realm as King Donald the Drumpf of the Small Hands.
 
 
+2 # xenonman 2017-01-12 04:34
It might be nice if he'd pardon Leonard Pelletier too!
 
 
+2 # lfeuille 2017-01-12 17:05
I would like him to also pardon Jeffery Sterling. His heart condition makes his survival in prison doubtful as well.
 
 
+3 # Femihumanist 2017-01-12 17:40
The hypocrisy regarding the treatment of Petraeus vs. Manning and Snowden is unbelievable, especially given each's rationale. However, few Americans (except us, of course) will even remember this in a few years.
 

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