LGBT groups have joined the chorus of those calling on President Obama to grant clemency to Chelsea Manning, a transgender former Army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking classified information.
In a letter dated Dec. 5 and spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union, 17 groups call on Obama to grant clemency to Manning — who’s in the middle of her seventh year of a 35-year sentence — based on the difficulties she’s faced as a transgender woman in a men’s prison.
“Manning, a transgender woman who is being forced to serve out her sentence in an all-male prison, has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement – including for attempting suicide – and denied necessary medical treatment related to her gender dysphoria,” the letter says. “The Army even opposed her request to use her legal name and to be referred to by female pronouns. While the armed forces have finally opened the door to transgender men and women who wish to serve, the government has continually fought Ms. Manning’s efforts to be treated with basic dignity.”
Manning, 29, formally requested Obama that grant her clemency by filing a petition last month that seeks to commute her decades-long sentence to the six-and-a-half years she’s already served at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Convicted in 2013 of violating the Espionage Act, Manning has served time in prison longer than anyone else in U.S. history convicted of leaking classified information.
Obama has authority as president to grant a pardon or commute the sentence of individuals convicted of federal crimes and has used that power to grant relief to more individuals than the previous 11 presidents combined. If Obama were to grant clemency to Manning, he would have to take action before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
Among the LGBT groups that signed the letter are BiNet USA, COLAGE, the Family Equality Council, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Immigration Equality, KhushDC, Lambda Legal, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, the LGBT labor group Pride at Work and the Transgender Law Center.
One LGBT group that isn’t among the signers is the Human Rights Campaign. A spokesperson for the nation’s largest LGBT group said the organization lacks the expertise to weigh in on the appropriateness of the length of Manning’s sentence.
“We continue to be concerned about the treatment of Chelsea Manning during her confinement,” HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said. “As she serves her sentence, she deserves the same thing that any incarcerated person does – appropriate and competent medical care and protection from discrimination and violence. This is something we have — and will continue — to make clear with officials.”
An Army intelligence analyst who leaked classified documents and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, Manning has been a controversial figure. Supporters say a video of a Baghdad airstrike she made public exposed war crimes the United States committed during the Iraq war, but opponents point to a subsequent dump of 251,287 State Department cables as evidence she was indiscriminately leaking information and jeopardized the lives and work of U.S. intelligence analysts.
Manning, who came out as transgender on the first day of her sentence, has faced challenges in federal prison and is confirmed to have attempted suicide at least twice, once in July and again as she was sentenced to solitary confinement in November for that initial attempt. The Army initially refused to provide her with hormone therapy, but agreed to provide the treatment last year as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. The Army also initially refused to grant her gender reassignment surgery, but reversed its decision in September after she underwent a hunger strike.
Ian Thompson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement clemency for Manning would give her a second chance and allow her to live the rest of her life authentically.
“Ms. Manning is the longest serving whistleblower in the history of the United States,” Thompson said. “Granting her clemency petition will give Ms. Manning a first chance to live a real, meaningful life as the person she was born to be.”
The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment Monday on whether Obama would grant clemency to Manning.
During a news conference in August, Obama said in granting clemency requests he has weighed whether a similar charge today would carry a lighter sentence and whether a particular crime was non-violent, but said criminal justice reform is the ultimate fix.
“It is my view, shared by Democrats and Republicans alike in many quarters, that as successful as we’ve been in reducing crime in this country, the extraordinary rate of incarceration of nonviolent offenders has created its own set of problems that are devastating,” Obama said. “Entire communities have been ravaged where largely men, but some women, are taken out of those communities. Kids are now growing up without parents. It perpetuates a cycle of poverty and disorder in their lives. It is disproportionately young men of color that are being arrested at higher rates, charged and convicted at higher rates, and imprisoned for longer sentences.”