The White House this week refused to discuss whether President Obama will pardon Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning as supporters of the convicted WikiLeaks source ramp-up their campaign for clemency in the face of Donald Trump’s imminent administration.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment Thursday when asked if Mr. Obama will have the soldier released from prison before leaving office next month.
“I’m not going to discuss individual cases,” Mr. Earnest said, as reported by The Washington Blade.
“There is a process that’s been established at the Department of Justice. For the way that those applications – whether or not those applications have been filed and how they’re being processed – is a question you should direct to them,” the spokesman added.
Manning, 28, is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence inside the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for convictions of espionage, theft and other charges related to supplying sensitive government documents to the website WikiLeaks.
Formerly known as Bradley Manning, the soldier came out as transgender a day after being sentenced in 2013 and legally changed her name the following year Her bid to be recognized as a woman by the military has so far been an uphill battle, however, and she remains incarcerated at an all-male prison and subjected to the same grooming standards as men.
Manning attempted suicide twice this year while behind bars, and claimed that both bids were largely driven by the lack of treatment being offered with respect to gender dysphoria – a medical diagnosis given to people who suffer from significant distress due to conflicts between their biological sex and gender identity.
The soldier acknowledged both failed attempts in a letter sent to Mr. Obama in November in which she urged the White House to commute the remainder of her sentence to time served in order to receive proper medical treatment. Those concerns were echoed last week with the American Civil Liberties Union and more than a dozen LGBT rights groups sent a letter of their own to the president pleading for clemency.
“This request comes at the peak of Chelsea’s escalating trauma and despair and on the eve of a new Administration’s rise to power,” ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio wrote in an open letter of his own last month to Mr. Obama. “Her life is in your hands.”
Addressing those clemency efforts at a press briefing Thursday, Mr. Earnest declined to comment on whether Mr. Obama will take into consideration the soldier’s personal struggles when he makes a decision before leaving office Jan. 20.
“At this point, I wouldn’t speculate on what factors the president may consider,” Mr. Earnest said, according to the Blade. “So there’s a well-established process for considering these clemency petitions, and I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for an update on why that may stand.”
“I would anticipate that the process will continue to run until the end,” he added. “But this is a process that cannot be done overnight, that these kinds of applications have to be filed well in advance, and there’s a lot of background work that has to be done before decisions on individual cases can be rendered. So I would not envision a rush to the exits here, but I would anticipate that the process will continue until the last day.”
Manning was arrested in 2010 while deployed as an intelligence analyst outside of Baghdad and has been in military custody ever since. She’ll be eligible for parole in roughly six years.