Chelsea Manning And The Brutality Of Transphobia In America

Apparently, no punishment is too extreme for a transgender soldier as opposed to a cisgender general

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s commutation has been met with a wave of hate from right-wing pundits who seem unfazed by pardons of generals for far more egregious actions. And that reveals the brutal transphobia conservatives promote almost daily. 

On Friday, two days after NBC quoted a source claiming that Manning was on President Obama’s shortlist for a commutation of her sentence, I interviewed one of  Manning’s attorneys, Nancy Hollander. She explained, as she has in many interviews, why Manning, who “served considerable more time than any other whistleblower in America,” should be released, having experienced brutal conditions as a transgender woman in a men’s military prison, as well as in solitary confinement before that, at Quantico. 

“We prepared Chelsea’s clemency petition at the end of November with a long document that she wrote, letters of support and other documents,” Hollander explained of the process. “It’s been sitting on the president’s desk, it’s been with the pardon attorney for the president, it’s been with the secretary of the Army since the end of the November. We’re delighted [by the NBC report] and we hope it’s true.”

And true it was, mercifully for Manning. President Obama yesterday commuted her sentence — at 35 years, the longest sentence ever for someone who’d leaked government information — to the seven years she has served.

Manning had previously been subjected to what human rights activists deemed as torture, in the first 11 months in custody at Quantico. She was held in solitary confinement, and attempted suicide. The punishment for that, incredibly, was to put her back in solitary confinement, where she attempted suicide again. 

Manning did a service to her country in revealing cover-ups the American people needed to know about the U.S. military, including how American soldiers fired on Iraqi civilians. “Airstrikes, documents, human rights violations, maybe even war crimes,” Hollander notes of the information Manning gave to Wikileaks. “She wanted people to see the face of war. That when you drop bombs, these are real people with real lives who are being affected. And it troubled her a great deal. She wanted others to be equality troubled so that people would not be so quick to involve the country in a war.”

Manning was coming to terms with her gender identity while serving in the U.S. military, where transgender people were barred from service and discriminated against.

At the same time, Manning was coming to terms with her gender identity while serving in the U.S. military, where transgender people were barred from service — until the Obama administration lifted the ban last year — and discriminated against. “She was undergoing her own struggle and undergoing the struggle of what she was seeing in the war,” Hollander said. “It’s hard to know how to separate those two but her desire was for the pubic to see the real space of war and how horrible it was. The only way to provide this kind information was to step up and do it and take the consequences. And she did that. Unfortunately the consequences were much more severe than they should have been. “

What Manning did pales in comparison to the actions of General David Petraeus, who disclosed top secret code word information to his mistress and lied to the FBI. He got a slap on the wrist ― probation and a fine.

But even if you disagree, Manning admitted guilt to some of the charges, apologized, served time and has experienced brutality in a military prison. If you believe Manning deserved a punishment surely she has paid more than her due — and no one deserves torture, no matter what the crime. 

Yet it appears that if someone is a transgender soldier, as opposed to a cisgender general, the crime there’s no punishment too extreme. While we’ve seen little outrage of Obama’s complete pardon on the same day of retired Marine general James E. Cartwright — who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during an investigation of a leak of classified information — the anger at  Manning on the right has exposed the brutality and transphobia among so many in conservatives.

Sen. John McCain, who quickly forgave Petraeus and even backed him as a possible Secretary of State in the Trump administration, said in a statement about the Manning commutation, “Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.” But in fact, Manning served seven years in prison, certainly held to account. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said nothing about Petraeus at the time, blasted Obama’s decision on Manning, claiming Manning’s “treachery” put lives at risk. Some right-wing writers on Twitter made outright transphobic statements and death wishes: 


With all of the progress we think we’ve made on transgender rights, to see this kind of response to a compassionate action by President Obama shows us the enormous work we have moving forward. Chelsea Manning will likely be a part of helping to do that.

“She wants to really begin her life,” Hollander said. “She feels like she’s never really had a chance to live — she’s certainly not lived as woman outside the prison. She’s been writing. She wants to further her education. She wants to serve her community. And this is how she will do it.”