The legal team for Chelsea Manning, imprisoned WikiLeaks whistleblower, has petitioned US President Barack Obama to reduce her prison sentence to time served. Chelsea has already spent six years in confinement, longer than any other US leaker in history. In 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted on several counts under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In a statement accompanying the clemency petition, Chelsea wrote,
I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction. I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever. The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members.
The New York Times reports that Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, former military commissions chief prosecutor Morris Davis and Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald submitted letters of support for Manning’s clemency.
Chelsea’s legal team, in a letter introducing the petition, emphasized Manning’s intention to “rais[e] public awareness about issues she found concerning, including the impact of war on innocent civilians.”
President Obama has overseen a broad crackdown on whistleblowers, using the Espionage Act to prosecute leakers more than twice as often as all previous presidents combined and initiating an ‘Insider Threat’ programme to root out potential disclosures ahead of time.
However, Obama has used his power of clemency to reduce the sentences of 774 inmates. Just last month, Obama granted clemency to 102 more prisoners, bringing 2016’s total to 590.
Granting clemency to Chelsea Manning, a heroic truth teller who exposed scores of atrocities and abuses despite knowing she was putting her life on the line, and who has inspired people across the globe with her courageous battle for trans rights in prison, is Obama’s final opportunity to begin to reverse his legacy on whistleblowers.
It would also be a chance to signal the proper way to treat truthtellers before the presidency of Donald Trump, who assumes the office on 20 January 2017. While Trump made opportunestic use of WikiLeaks’ 2016 disclosures of DNC emails, it’s unclear how whistleblowers will fare under a Trump administration.
Trump has yet to name his full cabinet but has floated names for various positions. For Attorney General, Trump could choose Chris Christie or Jeff Sessions, right-wing Republicans. For Secretary of State, Trump is considering, among others, John Bolton and Rudolph Giuliani. Exactly how these officials execute Trump’s worldview is yet to be seen, but we expect an even harder fight for transparency, accountability and protection for whistleblowers in the years to come.