President Obama: Commute Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

I have written on a number of occasions about why I support Chelsea Manning. NBC News this week announced that she was on Obama’s shortlist of commutations.

Supporters of Manning are asking people to call the DOJ: 202-353-1555 or call the office of the Pardon Attorney: 202-616-6070. I called the DOJ earlier this week, additionally I sent the below letter to President Obama this morning.

I strongly urge you to do the same, as Manning is a prisoner of conscience.


Dear President Barack Obama,

I am writing to strongly ask you to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence to time served. I have never personally met Manning, but have followed her case closely since the time of her arrest. I have done so in a number of capacities–as someone concerned about US actions overseas, as a journalist, and as someone who works with a NGO defending the right to freedom of expression in the United States. I have long admired Manning’s courage and been horrified by the treatment she has endured. As President of the United States, you have the power to correct a serious injustice by commuting Manning’s sentence. I urge you to do so before leaving office.

Including her pretrial detention, which took place under conditions UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez found to be cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment, Manning has been incarcerated for seven years.

Manning’s crime is that she leaked information of public interest about the misconduct of US public officials. Much of this information was in fact classified, but none of it received the highest classified, Top Secret. The information made public by Manning has been cited by a wide number of journalists, academics, and other specialists. According to the US military, not a single individual has died as a result of Manning making this information public. While the harm of this leak has been minimal, if not nonexistent, the good that it has done in making the public more informed has been invaluable.

This result is consistent with Manning’s own intentions. During her trial, Manning apologized for any harm caused by her actions, explaining her intention was to help, not hurt people. Manning’s decision to make the information in question public was motivated by her having witnessed a number of war crimes and atrocities. She believed that the American people had a right to know about the actions being undertaken in their name and that this knowledge would help to inform a robust democratic debate about US foreign policy. Given the degree to which scholars and journalists have relied on the information provided by Manning, her estimation of the public interest in the released information was correct.

Yet, Manning has served more time in prison than anyone in the history of the United States for giving information to media. The conditions of her confinement have been quite horrendous. As mentioned earlier, she served nearly a year of pretrial detention, much of it in solitary confinement. UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez found that these conditions constituted cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment. Due to the United States refusal to grant Mendez access to Manning he was unable to make a definitive determination if Manning’s treatment constituted tortured under international law.

Manning’s torture did not end there. Manning is a trans woman who is being held in an all-male prison. She has been subjected to bizarre disciplinary infractions, such as committing “medical misuse” by having expired toothpaste or “conduct which threatens” for having attempted to take her own life. As a result of the second incident, she was sentenced to 14 days in solitary confinement, an illogical and Kafkaesque sentence given that solitary confinement is known to cause severe mental and emotion distress and provoke self-harm. Following this cruel and unusual punishment, Manning once again made an attempt to take her own life while being held in solitary confinement.

No human being deserves to be subjected to the treatment outlined above. Even if one was to entirely overlook this cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment, Manning’s punishment is still unjustly disproportionate to her crime. She has been sentenced to serve 35 years in prison, the longest sentence ever for giving information to the media. She has also already served seven years of this sentence, which is itself the longest that anyone has ever been incarcerated for giving information to the media. Given the disproportionate nature of her sentence, the treatment she has been subjected to since being incarcerated, the lack of harm stemming from her actions, and the public good that came of them commuting her sentence to time served.

I strongly urge you to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence, as it is in the interest of justice for you to do so.


Chip Gibbons