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Pardon Me: The Strange Case of Chelsea Manning
01/20/2017 Barack Obama Raymond Z
keywords: Manning Pardon Whistleblowers

President Obama dropped the jaws of even some of his most ardent supporters when he recently pardoned Chelsea Manning. Although it is a long-standing presidential privilege to issue, news of the pending release left some military personnel saying “Pardon me?”. For those unfamiliar with her story, here is a quick review.

The Chelsea Manning Story

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning was born as Bradley Edward Manning on December 17, 1987. Manning joined the Army in 2007, and two years later was was assigned as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. It was in early 2010 Manning began uploading classified material to WikiLeaks. Lots of them. In fact, some three quarters of a MILLION pages. WikiLeaks began publishing the data in April 2010, and in May, Manning was arrested on espionage-related charges. Manning was convicted of 17 of the 22 charges faced, and in 2013, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, being sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Gender Identity Disorder

While in the Army, Bradley was diagnosed with gender identity disorder, and following sentencing, she stated she had felt like a female since childhood. According to the New York Times in 2016, the United States military allowed her to proceed with gender reassignment surgery. A recent CNN article said Manning, spending years in all male prison, had made several suicide attempts. While Chelsea Manning's transgender status may have had little to do with the release of classified information, it likely played a role in her early release.

So Why Did Obama Do It?

First, one should understand that Manning would have been eligible for parole in the 8th year of her 35 year sentence. This doesn't mean her sentence was commuted by 28 years, but perhaps as little as one. Her new scheduled release date in May of 2017, is seven years to the date of her arrest and confinement. There are those who believe it is President Obama's final nod to the LGBT community, who has championed her release for years. It may also be that the president thought with the changing political atmosphere, it may be her last chance at a commutation of sentence. But there are those who are simply puzzled with the move, especially considering the WikiLeaks involvement with the release of Hillary Clinton's emails and the Russian hacking scandal. It also rankles some that WikiLeaks' operator Julian Assange immediately called the release of Manning a "victory". In a strange time and in an odd political climate the pardon of Chelsea Manning is another curious episode. 

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