Chelsea Manning, who is serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified files to WikiLeaks, is asking the Obama administration to commute her sentence to time served. Her lawyers say the punishment is far too harsh.
In a commutation application released by her legal team, Chelsea Manning said there was no historical precedent for such an extreme sentence being handed down to a whistleblower.
The transgender soldier, formerly known as Bradley Manning, was arrested in 2010 and convicted in 2013 of six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offenses. She is currently more than six years into a 35-year sentence at the Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas.
"After accepting full responsibility for her choices, Ms. Manning was sentenced to the most severe punishment received by any other whistleblower in American history, so excessive that it even exceeds international legal norms," Manning's attorney Vince Ward said in a statement.
Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2010 when she passed on a trove of more than 700,000 diplomatic cables, documents, videos and battlefield accounts to the anti-secrecy group, WikiLeaks. After being convicted of espionage, Manning revealed that she identifies as a woman.
'Anxiety, anger' in prison
In her clemency request to President Barack Obama, Manning says she was confronting gender dysphoria - a condition of distress or anxiety experienced by some transgender people - at the time of the leaks, adding that she's a "far different person" than she was in 2010. She said her aim in releasing the secret files was to increase transparency and spread awareness about the impact of war on civilians.
"The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members," Manning wrote. "I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss and depression…I cannot focus. I cannot sleep."
Manning has tried to commit suicide multiple times citing the harsh conditions and treatment behind bars.
ACLU attorney Chase Strangio said his hope is that Obama commutes the sentence before leaving office in January.
"She has lived under incredibly harsh conditions the last six years and spent more time in prison than anyone in US history for giving information to the public," Strangio said. "I'm worried she won't survive much longer in these conditions."
Manning's application was accompanied by letters of support from Daniel Ellsberg, who released the classified Vietnam War history known as the Pentagon Papers, former military commissions chief prosecutor Morris Davis, and Glenn Greenwald, a legal commentator and journalist.
nm/bw (Reuters, AP)