Chelsea Manning Files Formal Pardon Request
(CN) - Seeking pardon from President Barack Obama on Wednesday, the transgender Army private responsible for the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history said that she acted "out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in."
The young soldier still went by her birth name and male identity Bradley Manning on Aug. 23 when a military judge handed down a 35-years sentence for the exposure of more than 700,000 files, including diplomatic cables, incident reports from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, profiles of Guantanamo detainees, and a video of an airstrike in Baghdad that WikiLeaks titled "Collateral Murder."
Manning's attorney David Coombs announced the next day that his client wished to be known as Chelsea.
While media outlets adjusted to the change, the WikiLeaks source still remains "Bradley" in the eyes of the U.S. government during her prison stay, and the documents seeking her pardon or commutation continue to refer to her with masculine pronouns.
"The length of Private Manning's sentence is one that we would expect for someone who disclosed information in order to harm the United States or who disclosed information for monetary gain," attorney David Coombs wrote. "Private Manning did neither. Instead, he disclosed information that he believed could spark a meaningful public debate on the costs of war, and specifically on how we value human life."
A lengthy sentence for Manning would have a "chilling effect on future whistle-blowers and damage the public's perception of military justice," Coombs added.
On the day of sentencing, Coombs announced that Manning personally typed her pardon request from prison, which includes a lengthy paragraph describing her disillusionment with U.S. actions following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Since the tragic events of 9-11, our country has been at war," the letter states. "We have been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on a traditional battlefield. Due to this fact, we have had to alter our methods of combatting the risks posed to us and our way of life. I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing."
Manning predicted that these actions will come to be viewed in the context of the country's darkest moments, including the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism and Japanese-American internment.
"There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people," Manning said, quoting the late historian Howard Zinn.
Amnesty International, supplementing these requests in an additional letter, noted that Manning's sentence is far harsher than those facing the many soldiers known to have committed "grave human rights violations" in the so-called "War on Terror."
"High-ranking officials avoided investigation for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in lraq in 2003-2004," wrote Anne FitzGerald, the nonprofit's director of research and crisis response. "Eleven low-ranking soldiers were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted in courts-martial, but they have all since been released. The Brigadier General in charge of the detention facility was reprimanded for dereliction of duty and demoted to Colonel. No criminal charges have ever been made in relation to the US secret detention programme where enforced disappearance and torture were authorized at the highest level of government. Details of the programme remain classified."
When Manning's attorneys first announced that a pardon request would be pending, Obama said he would give it the same consideration that he would give any other soldier. Observers have noted that Obama has been far stingier with pardons than his predecessors.
The current president has pardoned 17 people in his tenure, far fewer than George W. Bush's 189 pardons, and also dwarfed by the combined 456 pardons and commutations of the Clinton administration.