May 17, 2017 at 11:10 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Chelsea Manning released after nearly 7 years in prison
Chelsea Manning, gay news, Washington Blade

Chelsea Manning was released from prison Wednesday. (Portrait by Alicia Neal)

After spending nearly seven years in prison for leaking classified information, the Army has released Chelsea Manning as a result of clemency granted by former President Obama.

Manning in a statement acknowledged she had an early release from prison as a result of former President Obama granting her clemency as one of his final acts in office, which considerably reduced her initial 35-year sentence.

“After another anxious four months of waiting, the day has finally arrived,” Manning said. “I am looking forward to so much! Whatever is ahead of me is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now – which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me.”

Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, Manning’s clemency and appellate lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, confirmed Wednesday in a joint statement Manning had been released on the same day from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

“We are able to confirm that Chelsea Manning has been released safely from military prison,” Hollander and Ward said. “Thank you to everyone for ensuring her safe release and respecting her privacy as she starts to adjust to life outside of prison and rebuild her life following seven years of confinement. Chelsea has expressed her deep appreciation to her supporters and looks forward to the future.”

Convicted in 2013 for leaking classified documents and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, Manning has been a controversial figure. Supporters say a video of a Baghdad airstrike she made public exposed war crimes the United States committed during the Iraq war, but opponents point to a subsequent dump of 251,287 State Department cables as evidence she was indiscriminately leaking information and jeopardized the lives and work of U.S. intelligence analysts.

Manning has served more time in prison than anyone else in U.S. history convicted of leaking classified information. According to the ACLU, she spent 2,545 days in prison, or 6 years, 11 months and 18 days. That includes time spent in prison during her trial and after she received her sentence.

Manning, who came out as transgender on the first day of her sentence, has faced challenges in federal prison and is confirmed to have attempted suicide at least twice, once in July and again as she was sentenced to solitary confinement in November for that initial attempt.

The Army initially refused to provide her with hormone therapy, but agreed to provide the treatment last year as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. The Army also initially refused to grant her gender reassignment surgery, but reversed its decision in September after she underwent a hunger strike.

Chase Strangio, a transgender advocate and staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement that Manning demonstrated “strength and heroism” through her struggles in prison.

“Through extended periods of solitary confinement and up against the government’s insistence on denying her medical care and existence as a woman, Chelsea has emerged with grace, resilience, and an inspiring amount of love for others,” Strangio said. “I am humbled to fight alongside such a fierce advocate for justice.”

LGBT groups in a joint letter last year led by ACLU had joined calls on Obama to commute the sentence for Manning, who applied for clemency with the White House in November. Missing from the letter was the Human Rights Campaign, although the group applauded Obama when he announced clemency for her.

Some LGBT advocates celebrated the release of Manning from prison, arguing she was a whistleblower whose actions exposed abuses during the Bush and Obama administrations.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, said in a statement his organization will host a “welcome home” party for Manning along with LGBT organizations in other cities worldwide.

“Chelsea Manning is the LGBTQ movement’s greatest-ever anti-war activist and whistleblower about government crimes, and yet she was shunned by virtually every large LGBTQ non-profit,” Thayer said. “The reason is simple: her revelations deeply embarrassed not only the Republicans, but especially the Obama administration.”

Consistent with Republican opposition to Obama’s clemency for Manning, the Log Cabin Republicans was one group withholding applause for her upon her release.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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