Chelsea Manning: Obama rights a wrong before leaving office

With only days to remaining on his second term, President Obama has agreed to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who will now be released from prison on 17 May 2017.

Manning entered military custody in 2010, and was set to serve a 35 year sentence for passing more than 700,000 classified documents and videos to Wikileaks.

“Chelsea deserves her freedom, and the world’s respect, for her courageous, inspiring actions in 2010. Chelsea’s releases through WikiLeaks helped bring an end to the US war on Iraq, galvanised Arab Spring protesters and inspired subsequent truthtellers,” said Sarah Harrison, acting director of the Courage Foundation, a legal defence group that’s backed Manning.

“Chelsea should also be admired for the way she has drawn international attention to battles for transgender rights and against prison abuse, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”

Manning’s original sentence of 35 years was the longest ever attached to her crime, and her experiences in detention included having to endure torturous solitary confinement, which included being locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period.

Since Manning’s incarceration in 2010, she revealed that she identifies as a woman (Manning had previously been known as Bradley Manning), however her gender dysphoria went unacknowledged, and Manning remained in an all-male facility.

In the past year Manning attempted suicide twice, but rather than provide psychological care, the Army responded to Chelsea’s attempt by punishing her with a week in solitary confinement.

“Obama may well have just saved Chelsea Manning’s life. Freeing her is clearly and unambiguously the right thing to do, and not just for the obvious humanitarian reasons, though those are absolutely compelling,” said Harrison.

Manning’s release has been celebrated by fellow whisteblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted his thanks to President Obama, and by Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, whose site reposted a statement from the first day of Manning’s trial, which Assange claimed was “show trial” where “the verdict was ordained long ago.”

A week ago, Wikileaks also tweeted, “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case.”

However, it is unclear at this point whether Assange will stand by this commitment.

"I've been asked oh, so many times over the last years: 'How does it feel to be the end, how does it feel to be the tail of the dog, the last one over the fence?' I got on my soapbox after we came back, but in January of '73 I was at Kennedy [Space Center, Florida] for homecoming, and I said: 'I've been tired of being called the end. Apollo 17 is not the end. It's just the beginning of a whole new era in the history of mankind.'"

Eugene Cernan, the last man to have walked on the moon, died on Monday 16th January. In memory of the astronaut, we went back to an oral history conducted in 2007, 35 years after the final Moon landing, for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project in Houston, Texas to consider the man’s lunar legacy in his own words.

A US Navy Captain, Cernan flew three times in space, twice to the Moon. The second American to walk in space, he was the last human to leave his footprints on the Moon. In May 1969, he was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 and in 1972, he commanded the last human mission to the Moon with Apollo 17.  Below, we parsed the oral history to gather some of his thoughts on that legacy.

Eugene Cernan on Piloting

“There’s no way I’m going to go all the way to the Moon, particularly for a second time, and let a computer land me on the Moon.

“The arrogance of a pilot, particularly naval aviators, is too great to allow that to happen. Nobody ever landed on the Moon other than with their own two hands and brain and eyeballs and whatever.

“Computer-assisted, yes. Got a lot of information. We got help from a lot of sources. But you’re looking for landing radar. You’re looking to maintain the communications. You’re on your back. You’ve got to roll over. You’ve got to go face up. A lot of things happen very quickly.

“As I say a very dynamic, exciting 14 minutes of your life, maybe 15. At 7,000 feet you pitch over, so for the first time you can really see the landing site where you’re going to land.”

Eugene Cernan on Landing

“That’s where you experience the most quiet moment a human being can experience in his lifetime. There’s no vibration. There’s no noise. The ground quit talking. Your partner is mesmerized. He can’t say anything. The dust is gone.

“It’s a realization, a reality, all of a sudden you have just landed in another world on another body out there [somewhere in the] universe, and what you are seeing is being seen by human beings, human eyes, for the first time. Where you are no human beings have ever been before.”

Eugene Cernan  on Preparation

“So we prepared to get out. Had to prepare all our backpacks and everything. Then I started down the ladder. But the first step on the Moon had already been taken by Neil. So this was not the first step on the Moon. However, it was my first step. Let me tell you, it truly was a first step for me.

“It was important historically to me personally because well selfishly, because it was my step. I’d come close in Apollo 10, and now I was actually on the Moon, now I was actually going to step on the surface of the Moon.”

Eugene Cernan on First Steps

Images courtesy of NASA

“So when I stepped on the surface I realized I was really there, and that for the first time, I’m stepping on another body in this universe. You can climb the highest mountain or walk the depths of the deepest ocean on Planet Earth but you’re still on Planet Earth. Now after all that zero-G traveling for three days and my other flights, I’m standing and touching something hard, something I can feel, and it’s not Earth. (Pounding fist) That came home to me very very clearly. I’m living, truly living in another world at this point in time.

“There have been people who want to believe in the fantasy or the conspiracy, whatever, that it was all done in Hollywood, we never really walked on the Moon. Well, if they want to have missed one of the greatest adventures in the history of mankind, that’s their choice.

“But once my footsteps were on the surface of the Moon, nobody, but nobody, could ever take, and to this day can take those footsteps away from me. Like my daughter’s initials I put into the Moon during that three days we were there. Someone said, “How long will they be there?” I said, “Forever, however long forever is.” I’m not sure we, any of us, understand that.”