- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The American Civil Liberties Union and more than a dozen rights groups urged President Obama on Monday to grant clemency to Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier currently serving a decades-long sentence in an all-male prison for providing government and military documents to the website WikiLeaks.

With only weeks remaining in Mr. Obama’s administration, groups led by the ACLU wrote to the White House asking the commander in chief to commute the soldier’s sentence to time served before her fate falls into the hands of President-elect Donald Trump.

“Ms. Manning is currently in the seventh year of a 35-year sentence for disclosing classified information to the media with the intention of raising public awareness about issues she found concerning, including the impact of war on innocent civilians. Our organizations may be of differing opinions concerning Ms. Manning’s actions; however, we stand united in our support for her clemency petition,” begins the letter sent to Mr. Obama this week on behalf of the ACLU and groups including the National LGBTQ Task Force and the Transgender Law Center.

Formerly known as Bradley Manning, the soldier came out as transgender a day after being sentenced in 2013 for supplying the website WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of U.S. government and military documents obtained while deployed as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq.

While Manning has fought adamantly from behind bars to be recognized as a woman, the groups’ letter acknowledges that her efforts haven’t been without hardships: In addition to being incarcerated at an all-male prison, the letter notes that Manning has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement, including as punishment after a recent suicide attempt proved unsuccessful.

“The bottom-line is this: I need help and I am still not getting it,” Manning wrote in a letter of her own to the White House cited in Monday’s letter. “I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life. When the USDB [United States Disciplinary Barracks] placed me in solitary confinement as punishment for the attempted suicide, I tried it again because the feeling of hopelessness was so immense. This has served as a reminder to me that any lack of treatment can kill me, so I must keep fighting a battle that I wish every day would just end.”

“The sole relief that Ms. Manning is seeking is to be released from military prison after serving over six years of confinement — longer than any whistleblower in the history of our country. The consequences of her conviction would remain with her, including a punitive discharge, a reduction in rank, and the loss of veteran’s benefits,” the groups wrote, before concluding: “We urge you to consider Ms. Manning’s plea and grant her clemency petition.”

Should the White House grant Manning clemency, then the letters’ signatories say she’ll have “a first chance to live a real, meaningful life as the person she was born to be.” If the White House fails to act, however, then the future of Manning’s sentence will for the next several years depend on Mr. Trump — a Republican whose pick for deputy national security adviser, KT McFarland, previously called for Manning to be executed.

Mr. Obama has until his presidency expires on Jan. 20 to grant a pardon or commute the sentence of anyone convicted of a federal crime, and he already has commuted more sentences than the previous 11 presidents combined.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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