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Support A Trans Life Now And Ask Obama To Reduce Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

Trans activist, writer, whistleblower, and all-round badass Chelsea Manning‘s legal team has filed a clemency application asking President Obama to reduce her sentence to the six-plus years she has already served at the maximum security U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Given the looming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, and the horrors and dangers his presidency will impose not only on trans bodies, but on anyone who does not neatly fit into the new GOP Empire’s perverse definitions of “nationalism” and “patriotism,” it is imperative for those of us who support feminism, first amendment rights, and trans rights to throw our support behind the public petition and urge President Obama to do some parting good with the last of his executive powers.

The application highlights the “torturous conditions” Chelsea was forced to face in military prison, including being put in solitary confinement—a practice internationally acknowledged as illegal torture—twice. Chelsea has had to struggle for any modicum of rights as a trans woman in an all male prison throughout her tenure, and is still asked to keep her hair short as per male prison standards. Chelsea’s described this deprivation as a “never ending nightmare” affecting her ability to truly express and live as herself in the confined conditions that she is in. “The bottom line is this,” Chelsea writes in her petition, “I need help and I am still not getting it. 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.”

“I take full and complete responsibility for my decision to disclose these materials to the public,” Chelsea has written in her petition, stressing along with her legal team that her request was for mere commutation, not a pardon or sanction of her actions. She added that the sentence she’s already served—over six years—is longer than any person accused of similar crimes ever has been. As a point of comparison, Lynndie England, a military officer convicted of torture, prisoner abuse, and war crimes in the notorious Abu Gharib prison, served only half of that sentence before being released on parole.

Morris Davis, a former military commissions chief prosecutor, has written in support of her clemency application. He’s pointed out that high-profile cases after Chelsea’s sentencing show that she was over-prosecuted for her crimes, and that other, more high profile war criminals get disparately better treatment. He’s reminded us that then State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned in protest to Chelsea’s treatment, calling it “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Chelsea’s petition includes letters of support from prominent public figures, including Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers fame, and Glenn Greenwald, a prominent left-wing journalist at The InterceptEllsberg says in Chelsea’s defense:

It is my firm belief that Ms. Manning disclosed this material for the purpose of informing the American people of serious human rights abuses, including the killing of innocent people by the United States troops in Iraq. She hoped to begin a dialogue in our democratic society about the continuation of a war that she believed was wrong and was contributing to illegal acts.

Greenwald’s assessment of Chelsea is filled with warmth and immense admiration and makes you long to know her personally. “Chelsea is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, empathetic, and compassionate people I have ever met in my life,” he writes, adding that her “courage is self-evident” and that she is not only an “incredibly insightful person but also an incredibly kind one.” Calling her a hero, Greenwald has said in his talks to people around the world, audiences “break out into sustained and passionate applause at the mere mention of her name.”

Greenwald’s sentiments are echoed by anyone who has befriended, or interacted with Chelsea. “I am speechlessly awed by her curiosity and perseverance in the face of extremely messed-up, depressing circumstances,” writes her friend Yan Zhu. She summarizes, “Chelsea is a celebrated whistleblower, a role model for millions of people around the world, a pioneer for transgender rights, and a hero who will be remembered forever in American history.”  Her attorney, Chase Strangio of the ACLU, has said that Chelsea “breathes life into our movements and is a gift to our advocacy and organizing.”

Chelsea has never lived in the outside world as the forceful and bright trans lady as she is. “I am Chelsea Manning, a proud woman who is transgender…and [am] respectfully requesting a first chance at this life,” she writes. “I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the USDB as the person I was born to be.”

We face urgent decisions—every day now—on creating the kind of world that we live in and the kind of people we want inhabiting this world, with all the freedom, kindness, love, activism, and empathy that they have to give to it. The new President-Elect is attempting to institute a regime that is vicious and cruel; a regime where freedom of speech and civil rights are clamped down upon; a regime where hatred is the norm and difference is punished; a regime that quashes liberation, activism, democracy, love, sisterhood, and solidarity. Chelsea Manning represents the values in our society that we must uphold, fight for, and protect.

Stand up for the kind of society you want for this country, and sign the petition here to reduce Chelsea’s sentenceTell your family and friends; spread this over social media. We fight for all of us, and we must buckle down in this fight now.

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Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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