Pvt. Chelsea Manning was freed from military prison this morning, having served seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking hundreds of thousands of military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010 to WikiLeaks.
She'd probably still be there if President Barack Obama had not extended mercy right before leaving office and commuted her sentence. Obama's 11th hour kindness comes at the end of an administration that viciously went after leakers.
It's been so long since Manning's leaks and so much has happened since then that it's easy to forget what exactly it is she released. Probably the significant leak that most people still might remember was what was known as the "collateral murder" video, which showed American military helicopters firing on a group of civilians in Baghdad. Two of them were reporters for Reuters, and apparently the helicopter pilots mistook their cameras for guns. The reporters (and others) died, and Reuters struggled to get information about what actually happened.
Manning exposed a lot more of the serious consequences of post 9/11 military interventions and even other important issues of government corruption—not just from the United States either. Multiple media outlets (including The New York Times and The Guardian) reported the contents of many of these documents. A lengthy list of information governments were keeping secret (and really shouldn't have been) exposed by Manning can be read through here, compiled by Greg Mitchell, who wrote a book on Manning's case and trial with Kevin Gosztola.
Over at The New York Times, Charlie Savage notes that Manning essentially pioneered what would become a small trend of mass document dump leaks. She's the reason why we know what WikiLeaks is, honestly. And it's worth wondering if we even would have had an Edward Snowden without the precedent Manning's willingness to release this information at great risk to herself. Also an important reminder: Yes she was convicted of several espionage-related crimes, but she was acquitted of charges of "aiding the enemy."
Manning will apparently be keeping a low profile for a little while. She was notably treated terribly in custody, both before she was even convicted and afterward. After her conviction she announced her gender transition and name change from Bradley to Chelsea. She complained that the military wasn't very accommodating of her transition and even attempted suicide. There's obviously going to be a bit of an adjustment period. But she did tweet/Instagram out a picture of her first steps after release.
Here's an interesting reminder from 2013—Ron Paul said Manning was more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Obama was:
"While President Obama was starting and expanding unconstitutional wars overseas, Bradley Manning, whose actions have caused exactly zero deaths, was shining light on the truth behind these wars," the former Republican presidential contender told U.S. News. "It's clear which individual has done more to promote peace."
It's worth paying attention to the importance of whistleblowers as the Justice Department announces new efforts to find and prosecute the leakers within President Donald Trump's administration. Given the extremely frequent occurrences of leaks within the White House and the administration as a whole, one wonders if there will be anybody left there if the DOJ succeeds.