As granted by the Constitution, "executive clemency may take several forms, including pardon, commutation of sentence, remission of fine or restitution, and reprieve."President Obama has been on a tear recently commuting the sentences of prisoners before he leaves office next month. Time Magazine reported that the President has now commuted the sentences of more prisoners than the past eleven Presidents combined. Many of the prisoners that he has freed from incarceration were behind bars for lesser drug offenses that were basically crimes against themselves. President Obama is using clemency to give those who made mistakes in their youth another chance at life on the outside.
Those are the lesser-knowns - and good for Obama because they represent a strata of American life that politicians traditionally overlook or ignore. But there are a handful of American prisoners whose crimes were more a matter of conscience, and as such, also deserve to be considered for clemency. I plan to add my voice to three of their cases over the next couple of weeks.
First up: Chelsea Manning.
Although born male as Bradley Edward Manning nearly twenty-nine-years-ago, she now identifies as female and is known to the world as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. Chelsea is a long-term prisoner at the military's Disciplinary Barracks in Leavenworth, Kansas, a facility built and maintained for housing dangerous males. Ms. Manning was allowed to begin hormone replacement therapy last year, and this year the base commander at Leavenworth approved her request of gender reassignment surgery.
Manning was arrested in Iraq in 2010 while serving as a Private First Class with the Army. She was accused of thirty-five crimes all related to copying military materials and state department cables and giving that material to Wikileaks, where much of it was subsequently published. Manning pleaded guilty to ten of the charges, but denied the more serious ones such as giving aid to the enemy - a charge that could have resulted in the death penalty. She was acquitted of the more serious charges.
What Chelsea Manning was guilty of was embarrassing a bunch of over-stuffed generals who thought they were running a secure computer network - as well as the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton's State Department. While the generals slept secure in the knowledge that their computer networks were safe behind fourteen-character passwords that were changed every ninety days, young Private Manning kicked back at her desk listening to music while she downloaded reams of secret correspondence onto plug-in devices that could be bought at any Walmart.
The military painted Chelsea Manning as a traitor, but the young private was, in reality, a whistle-blower - and people in power don't like whistle-blowers. She is serving a thirty-five-year sentence and will be eligible for parole at the end of eight years.
Chelsea Manning has already been incarcerated longer than any other person who committed similar crimes. Of her more than six years in prison, nearly all of one was in solitary confinement, a situation that Barack Obama is on record opposing. Ms. Manning recently tried to commit suicide, and she was rewarded for that unsuccessful attempt on her own life with yet another stint in solitary.
Chelsea Manning's appeal to President Obama for commutation of her sentence to time-served has the support of a string of dignitaries including the likes of Daniel Ellsberg, Morris Dees, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
Show some mercy, Mr. President. Chelsea admits her guilt and she has already served more than enough time behind bars to atone for her behavior. Commute her sentence to time-served and let this young person get on with her life. With her unique set of circumstances, life on the outside will be no bed of roses, but at least there she has a chance of survival. Chelsea's life is at risk every day she remains behind bars.
Show your compassion, Sir, and your common decency.
Free Chelsea Manning!