Chelsea Manning was released from Fort Leavenworth, the maximum security prison on 18 May, after seven years of harassment, brutality and enforced solitary confinement.
Manning was sentenced in August 2013 for leaking classified wire cables and military records to WikiLeaks. At the time she was a military intelligence analyst and for slightly bizarre reasons will remain classified as a member of the military for a period after her release.
Soon after she was sentenced she went public with the fact she was a transgender woman. The US military continued to hold her in an all-male prison, humiliating her and refusing to provide any access to appropriate medical care or for the hormone therapy and other treatment she and her supporters requested. She attempted suicide twice and if her sentence had not been commuted there is a high chance she would have died in prison. The blame would lie with the US military establishment and government if she had.
Manning was originally sentenced to 35 years in a military court, where the prosecution wanted to go for the death penalty charge of treason. She has been the victim of the most draconian sentence ever imposed for leaking classified documents. Most famously the WikiLeaks release included the “Collateral Murder” video showing a US Apache helicopter killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and two journalists. Manning’s crime was only to expose the inner workings of US imperialism where, through both its diplomatic relations and areas of its military manoeuvres, civilian life is treated purely as “collateral damage”.
While Manning’s sentence was commuted by Obama, it was under his leadership and that of the then State Department Secretary, Hillary Clinton that more individuals were prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 than any other administration. Shoring up the support of the Democratic Party’s base was a far more likely calculation. There has been no pardon, no exoneration. That shows others who may follow what the potential punishment would be. Jeff Sessions the US attorney-general, made the Trump administration’s position very clear, “stepping up our efforts on all leaks ... whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”