Private Chelsea Elizabeth Manning will be released from Leavenworth Prison in Kansas on Wednesday, May 17. When she's finally free, the transgender soldier and leaker of national security secrets will remain an active duty albeit unpaid soldier, still eligible for health insurance and other benefits.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. According to the New York Times, her sentence was "by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction," and after she came out as transgender in 2013, many in the LGBT community decried her sentence as unjust, and tried to frame her actions as those of a troubled, despondent young soldier who was disillusioned with her life and job on multiple levels.
Included in Manning's leak was video footage of a United States Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
Manning was named and then infamously un-named a grand marshal of the 2013 San Francisco Pride Parade. Following backlash from both sides of the issue of awarding a convicted military secret leaker and/or whistleblower such an honor, Manning was named an honorary grand marshal in 2014's San Francisco Pride festivities.
Last year, we learned that Manning had attempted suicide in her cell in July, and subsequently was punished by a military disciplinary board and sentenced to two weeks in solitary confinement. Unable to groom herself or present as female in military prison, Manning had grown frustrated, despite being allowed to receive hormone treatments. At the time she wrote of the suicide attempt, "I am feeling hurt. I am feeling lonely. I am embarrassed by the decision. I don’t know how to explain it."
Thanks to a January commutation from outgoing President Barack Obama, she's being released a full six years before her official date of parole eligibility and her court-martial conviction remains under appeal.
Current President Donald Trump was none too thrilled with the pardon.
"Pvt. Manning is statutorily entitled to medical care while on excess leave in an active duty status, pending final appellate review," said Army Spokesperson Dave Foster.
If Manning's appeal is denied, she could then be dishonorably discharged, which would mean a loss of health care benefits including a loss of eligibility for government-funded sex reassignment surgery for which she's already been approved.
Manning changed her name and underwent hormone treatment while in prison. According to her lawyer, the soldier suffered abuse while incarcerated. "Like far too many people in prison, particularly transgender women, Chelsea Manning has had to survive unthinkable violence throughout the seven years of her incarceration," said attorney Chase Strangio.
In a new statement released by the ACLU, Manning said, "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."