Snowden, Ellsberg Issue Heartfelt Support for Almost-Free Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning will be freed in May 2017, after spending nearly seven years in custody. (Photo: Exile on Ontario St./flickr/cc)

Snowden, Ellsberg Issue Heartfelt Support for Almost-Free Chelsea Manning

'Once in a while, someone does what they ought to do. Some go to prison for it...But sometimes even a president does it'

President Barack Obama's commutation Tuesday of Chelsea Manning's 35-year prison sentence brought about ecstatic reactions from the whistleblower's supporters, who have waged a campaign for her freedom for years.

That includes Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and faced 115 years in prison for his role in exposing the U.S. government's machinations during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg told the Guardian's Trevor Timm on Tuesday, "Once in a while, someone does what they ought to do. Some go to prison for it, for seven years; some accept exile for life. But sometimes even a president does it. And today, it was Obama."

Similar praise came from former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed the Obama administration's mass surveillance operations in the U.S. and abroad. Snowden, who remains in exile in Russia, where his asylum was just extended to 2020, tweeted Tuesday, "In five more months, you will be free. Thank you for what you did for everyone, Chelsea. Stay strong a while longer!"

He added, "Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama."

Snowden also credited the grassroots movement that pressured the government for years to free Manning, tweeting, "To all who campaigned for clemency on Manning's behalf these last hard years, thank you. You made this happen."

Manning, a former Army intelligence officer, in 2010 gave 700,000 classified U.S. State and Defense Department documents to WikiLeaks, which published them in concert with the Guardian, the New York Times, and other media outlets. Among numerous classified diplomatic cables, the leaks included a video showing a U.S. helicopter attack on Baghdad that killed two Reuters journalists and numerous Iraqi civilians. Manning was ultimately convicted by court-martial under multiple counts of the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas military prison in 2013.

Since her arrest in 2010 by military authorities, Manning has been jailed for nearly seven years. She will be freed in May.

Obama's commutation, many noted, will allow Manning--a transgender woman--to leave the all-male facility where she has twice attempted suicide.

"Obama may well have just saved Chelsea Manning's life. Freeing her is clearly and unambiguously the right thing to do, and not just for the obvious humanitarian reasons, though those are absolutely compelling," said Sarah Harrison, acting director of the Courage Foundation and former WikiLeaks editor. "Chelsea deserves her freedom, and the world's respect, for her courageous, inspiring actions in 2010. Chelsea's releases through WikiLeaks helped bring an end to the US war on Iraq, galvanised Arab Spring protesters and inspired subsequent truthtellers."

Harrison credited Manning for galvanizing a global grassroots movement and encouraging a renewed public demand for transparency, and expressed concern for whistleblowers and grassroots activists in light of the incoming administration.

"Today's news will not make good the harm done on Obama's watch. Chelsea's conviction under the Espionage Act and 35-year sentence set a terrible precedent that is left entirely intact by this commutation. Who knows what [President-elect] Donald Trump will do with this precedent, and these powers, that Obama has left him?" Harrison said.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks issued, then reversed, a statement that its founder Julian Assange would face extradition to the U.S., as he promised to do if Manning received commutation. His legal team now says the conditions of her release were not satisfactory to warrant Assange turning himself in.

However, the media outlet added on Twitter, "Assange is still happy to come to the US provided all his rights are [guaranteed] despite White House now saying Manning was not quid-quo-pro."

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. He is wanted for sexual assault allegations in Sweden, but has said he fears arrest by Swedish authorities would allow him to be extradited to the U.S., where he faces questioning over his activities with WikiLeaks.

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