Dear President Obama,
I write on behalf of Human Rights Watch in support of the commutation of the sentence of Fort Leavenworth inmate Chelsea Manning to time served.
Following her conviction in 2013 by a US court martial in Fort Meade, Maryland on charges related to her disclosure of a large cache of government documents to online publisher WikiLeaks, Manning (then known as Bradley) was sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment. Human Rights Watch has long objected to the disproportionate nature of this sentence, which exceeds any other for US prosecutions of offenses related to the leak of sensitive information. It is also far longer than the penalties that are normally applied by most democracies for similar offenses, and undoubtedly will chill not only leaks of information the government has a valid interest in keeping secret, but also public disclosures of fraud, human rights violations, and similar wrongs.
Manning did not have an opportunity to defend herself on the basis that her disclosures in whole or in part were in the public interest, a serious flaw in US law to which the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information has drawn attention again today. Commuting her sentence will send the message that punishment should always be proportionate, and that the public interest should be considered in all prosecutions of persons who disclose confidential information to the media.
We also note that Manning has faced continuing obstacles in obtaining appropriate gender-affirming medical treatment incarcerated, challenges which appear to have contributed to her attempts at self-harm.
For these reasons, we are pleased by reports that your administration is considering commuting Ms. Manning's sentence. We strongly encourage you to do so.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno
Co-Director, US Program