Why Chelsea Manning is out of prison but must stay in the US Army

We actually have no idea what Manning looks like.
We actually have no idea what Manning looks like.
Image: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Chelsea Manning, the Army private sentenced to the longest term ever imposed for leaking US government documents, was released from a military prison in Kansas today (May 17). Her 35-year term was commuted by former president Barack Obama  just before he left office in January. Here’s a look at the key facts in Manning’s case:

Her time behind bars

Manning, a former intelligence analyst, will have served just under seven years in military prison for giving more than 700,000 diplomatic cables and military documents to the WikiLeaks website in 2010. A massive scandal at the time, experts now differ on the relative importance of the leaks.

The Assange connection

While Manning was convicted on multiple charges, including the violation of the Espionage Act, the other crucial player in the leak, Julian Assange, an Australian hacker and founder of WikiLeaks, has yet to face any US charges. He is, however, confined to living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been since 2012. He is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, which has issued an arrest warrant for him on rape allegations. What’s more, in April, US authorities told CNN said they were preparing to charge Assange with a crime, but no details have been made public.

Manning’s transition

Manning, formerly known as Bradley, is said to have identified as a woman since childhood. She started her gender transition in prison. After a legal battle, Manning received hormone treatment, and was told she was eligible for gender reassignment surgery. With her release, Manning may still be able to go through with the operation under the military’s medical policies, because she must remain on active duty pending her appeal, USA Today reported.  She will be able to receive health benefits but will not be paid a salary. If she loses the appeal, Manning will be dishonorably discharged—as called for as part of her original sentence—and will lose her benefits.

What’s ahead after release

Her time behind bars in a male facility was fraught — she attempted suicide twice, and went on a hunger strike. In a statement released through her lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, Manning said she looks forward to the future:

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts. I am forever grateful to the people who kept me alive, President Obama, my legal team, and countless supporters.”

She remains under military jurisdiction, which restricts her active-duty freedom significantly, according to statements from her military counsel to NBC News. Even writing something the military might not like could get her into trouble, said the attorney

Soon after she was released, however, Manning took to social media: