Chelsea Manning, the Army whistle blower who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending a trove of diplomatic and military files to Wikileaks, has been released from Fort Leavenworth, the Pentagon confirmed today.
Manning, 29, who transitioned from male to female while incarcerated, had her sentence commuted by President Barrack Obama in the final days of his administration last January. “For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea,” Manning said last week, “I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am, and I can finally be in the outside world.”
The road to freedom was tortuous, with Manning fighting the Army while in prison for the right to assume her new gender identity, and to receive medical care in support of her transition.
Her 2013 conviction on a score of charges, including espionage, caused many leading political figures to brand then-Bradley Manning a “traitor“. However, the Army private, who will remain on unpaid active duty, and receive medical benefits while her courts-martial conviction is appealed, was not found guilty of aiding the enemy. “The Army will hear Pvt. Manning’s appeal in due course,” a senior Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
While in Fort Leavenworth, an all-male military prison, Manning attempted suicide twice, and went on a hunger strike which ended only when the Army agreed to facilitate her transition. The Army steadfastly insisted Manning was a spy, and evidence was presented at her trial which included leaked footage of a helicopter gunship killing civilians in Baghdad, and other sensitive information.
However, the government later acknowledged that Manning’s activities “did not substantially harm national security”, which factored into Obama’s decision to shorten her sentence. Prominent Republicans expressed anger with Obama’s clemency, with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) calling it “a grave mistake“.
Because Manning will remain under the military control of the Army, her assignment during the appeals process has not yet been determined. If her conviction is upheld, Manning would likely be dishonorably discharged from the Army, military law experts confirmed.