Chelsea Manning's Freedom: 'We Didn't Think It Would Work'

Lawyers recount long-shot struggle ahead of her prison release this week
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2017 2:54 PM CDT
This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Pfc. Chelsea Manning wearing a wig and lipstick. She will be released from prison on May 17.   (U.S. Army via AP, File)

(Newser) – Chelsea Manning will be released from prison on Wednesday, thanks to former President Obama's decision to commute the bulk of her 35-year sentence for leaking government secrets. If you were surprised by that decision, you're not alone: As a story in Mother Jones explains, her legal team was, too. "We didn't really think it would work," says Nancy Hollander, one of her lawyers. The team, however, felt it had no choice but to try, casting it quite literally as a matter of life or death. The push for commutation came after Manning, who has been in prison about six years, attempted suicide in July. "I was feeling that her life was in jeopardy and she wasn't going to survive much longer," says another attorney, Chase Strangio of the ACLU. "The years of trauma that were building up was such that another year seemed difficult to imagine."

The story runs through that trauma, detailing Manning's ongoing fight to transition to a female while behind bars. She won the right for hormone therapy, along with a promise of sex-reassignment surgery (which she hasn't had yet), but lost other battles such as the right to grow her hair long. A UN investigator, meanwhile, called her solitary confinement "cruel, inhuman, and degrading," and Manning went on a hunger strike. "I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression," she wrote Obama in her commutation plea. Much to everyone's surprise, it worked. (A White House spokesman noted that she had apologized, unlike Edward Snowden.) When Manning is out, she'll move to Maryland and is expected to be an activist for transgender rights. A crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $130,000 for her. (Read the full story.)

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