President Barack Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the transgender former army intelligence analyst, has been applauded by human rights groups.
Manning, 29, who leaked classified government documents revealing cover ups by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, was arrested in May 2010 and sentenced to 35 years in prison in August 2013 – said to be the longest such sentence ever imposed in the US.
After being sentenced, Manning announced that she would no longer identify as Bradley, but as Chelsea. She was nevertheless imprisoned in a men’s facility and struggled to obtain gender-affirming medical and other treatment. She attempted suicide a number of times and was further punished by being sent into solitary confinement.
On Tuesday, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to a total of seven years confinement, which means that she will be freed on May 17.
Human Rights Watch said that it had long objected to Manning’s prosecution, as she was allowed no public interest defence, as well as to her “grossly disproportionate sentence”. Sarah St.Vincent, Human Rights Watch Researcher, US division, said that Obama had “rightly” commuted her sentence.
Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, described the decision as “long overdue”. She commented: “Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBTQ group, was more cautious in welcoming the news but said that the decision reflected Obama’s “strong record regarding the humane treatment of prisoners and a long commitment to LGBTQ equality”.
HRC Communications Director Jay Brown expressed the hope that “Pvt. Manning soon can access the care and treatment that she, and every transgender person, deserves”.
Brown added that it is the government’s responsibility to provide medically necessary care for transgender people and the military has an obligation to follow those guidelines.