Chelsea Manning — whistleblower, former army intelligence analyst, transgender icon — was just released from prison 28 years ahead of schedule.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Manning left Kansas’ Fort Leavenworth military barracks after being sentenced to 35 years behind bars in 2013 for committing espionage by leaking thousands of sensitive military documents to Wikileaks. As one of his last acts in officer, however, President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in January.
Manning, 29, will remain a special active duty soldier while appealing a separate court martial conviction within the army. If her appeal is denied, she risks dishonorable discharge from the military. While still in the army, Manning won’t be paid but will receive military medical care — which will likely include the gender-affirming surgery that the army agreed to pay for last September after her doctor recommended it in April 2016.
The trove of documents Manning leaked included video footage of 2007 airstrikes in Baghdad by two U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters that left a dozen dead, including two Iraqi men working for Reuters news agency. The video, dubbed “collateral damage” by Wikileaks, raised fresh questions about U.S. military conduct in Iraq and whether such strikes constituted war crimes.
In her petition to Obama for clemency, Manning pointed out that, as of January, she had already served a longer sentence than any other whistleblower in American history and expressed remorse for her actions. “I never made any excuses for what I did,” she wrote. “I am not Bradley Manning [her name before she came out as transgender]. I never really was. I am Chelsea Manning, a proud woman who is transgender and who, through this application, is respectfully requesting a first chance at life.”
“Now she will get that first chance,” Manning’s lawyer Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project, wrote in a blog post on Monday. “Nothing about the coming days or weeks or months will be easy.” “But they will be hers. “
Manning attempted suicide twice while in prison and endured a protracted battle with army officials to receive the treatment that her doctor recommended after diagnosing her with gender dysphoria, which included allowing her to adhere to female grooming standards.
Details of where Manning intends to settle remain scant, but a GoFundMe raising money for her release notes she plans to return to Maryland, where he aunt and beloved cat Belle live. So far, supporters have raised more than $150,000 to help her rebuild her new life.