Chelsea Manning, the imprisoned former Army private behind the U.S. military’s largest leak in history, may see her sentence commuted by the end of Barack Obama’s tenure, a Justice Department official told NBC News Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, fellow government leaker Edward Snowden voiced his support for Manning's pardon, as a decision on whether to take action on Manning's case was expected to be announced this week, the official told NBC News.
Manning—who attempted suicide while incarcerated at a Fort Leavenworth, Kansas prison in July, only to be placed in solitary confinement in September—was sentenced to 35 years for violating the Espionage Act in 2013 and has been imprisoned since 2010. The transgender whistleblower tried to commit suicide once more in early November.
As of mid-December, a petition signed by more than 100,000 people demanded her pardon before Obama leaves office Jan. 20. The 29-year-old has apologized for sending the trove of documents—which included State Department cables, unreported numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq and footage of a U.S military helicopter firing on Reuters journalists—to WikiLeaks, a publisher of secret information heralded by Australian computer programmer Julian Assange, who said he’d turn himself in in the event of Manning’s pardon.
While some have argued that Manning’s leaks didn’t put American lives in danger, but rather cast the U.S. government in a negative light, Obama has until recently appeared unlikely to grant her a commutation, telling attendees at a 2011 San Francisco fundraiser that the former private “broke the law.” Obama has taken a stern stance on leakers, prosecuting eight people under the Espionage Act during his tenure, compared to just three between 1917, when the law was introduced, and the start of his tenure in 2009.
The longevity of Manning’s sentence has also drawn criticism—notably, from her defense lawyer.
“After this case, I had to tell Chelsea, ‘I’ve represented murderers. I’ve represented rapists. I’ve represented child molesters,” David Coombs, who has represented the whistleblower, told NBC. “And none for them received 35 years.”
Snowden is also seeking a pardon from Obama. He has admitted to leaking information about United States surveillance programs to the press in 2013 and is now living in Russia to avoid criminal charges.