Chelsea Manning is a free woman.
Manning was released today from a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents. In one of his last acts in office, President Obama commuted most of her remaining sentence.
“The day has finally arrived. I am looking forward to so much!” said a statement released by Manning through her legal team, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Whatever is ahead of me is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now — which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me.” For security and privacy reasons, Manning is holding no press conferences or other public events.
Manning had been imprisoned since 2010, when, then an Army private, she was arrested for sharing classified documents with WikiLeaks. She was convicted on 20 charges, including violations of the federal Espionage Act, in 2013; she is appealing her conviction. During her incarceration, she came out as a transgender woman.
“Manning said she shared information that she believed wouldn’t harm the U.S. But critics said documents posted on the Internet by WikiLeaks identified informants who had helped the military, potentially putting their lives at risk,” the Times reports. “The leaks also revealed disparaging comments by U.S. diplomats about America’s foreign allies, causing embarrassment to the Obama administration.”
She also said she wanted to expose lies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that she was suffering under the anti-LGBT policies then in place in the military.
She has detailed mistreatment in prison, which has included periods of solitary confinement. She was subjected to male grooming standards and had to sue to receive transition-related hormone therapy. Last year, she attempted suicide twice and, after a hunger strike, received a promise of gender-affirmation surgery. After her release, she will remain on active duty, albeit on unpaid leave, during her appeal, making her eligible for medical benefits, Army officials said.
“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea,” Manning said in a statement released by her lawyers last week. “I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine.” She also thanked Obama for the commutation; her sentence was much longer than those usually give to leakers.
At the time of the commutation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there were major differences between Manning’s case and that of another well-known leaker, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. “Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said.
Manning is headed to Maryland, where she has family, according to a GoFundMe page set up by relatives and friends to raise money for her living expenses. Funds will also be raised for her at parties scheduled for tonight in Boston, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, Calif., as well as New Zealand, Israel, Germany, Ireland, and England, notes a press release from Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network.
And several music stars have teamed up to release an online benefit album, Hugs for Chelsea. They include Graham Nash, Tom Morello, Amanda Palmer, Against Me! and numerous others. Organized by Evan Greer, a transgender activist and friend of Manning’s, the album is available here. All proceeds will go to Manning.