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Justice tempered with mercy

Commentary: Trans Progressive

Chelsea Manning

In one of his last acts as president of the United States, President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning. Under the current commutation scheme, she’ll be released in May. It was an act, in my opinion, that was justice tempered with mercy.

Not many remember how Manning was mistreated during her pretrial confinement, but I do. Manning was held in highly restrictive solitary confinement due to being on suicide watch and on a number of occasions was required to sleep naked – a confinement level a judge later ruled was “excessive” – even though the facility mental health advisor recommended that the suicide watch be lifted.

And since being held at the military prison for men at Leavenworth, Kansas, most of us in the trans community are aware of the harsh treatment in prison she’s received since coming out as transgender. When it was clear that she had gender dysphoria, and that the appropriate treatment includes hormone treatment, the Army, which runs the prison, looked hard to deny the treatment even though many courts have ruled that denial is a cruel and unusual treatment under the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.

When Manning had a tube of toothpaste in her cell that the prison staff determined was past its shelf life, they disciplined her severely. After she had a suicide attempt, they punished her with solitary confinement.

The military is apparently choosing to have a hard time treating Manning humanely.

She’s admitted her crime, and accepted responsibility for it, so to paraphrase the Los Angeles Times’ editorializing on this it doesn’t strain justice to show Manning mercy at this point, six years into her sentence. But it’s more than just mercy; it’s also justice for the mistreatment she’s suffered at the hands of the Army.

And, this isn’t a pardon, but a commutation of the rest of her sentence. And, there’s good that she did for transparency in government operations in the Middle East in the name of the U.S. people. But, there’s also harm that she did to the security of the U.S. in her indiscriminate release of information. It’s complicated, but she’s paid a debt for the harm she’s done.

She can humbly rest in the knowledge she has done some good, as many will surely remind her. But too, she has the rest of her life as an opportunity to give back to others as atonement for the harm she caused and she should take that opportunity.

I realize that in my subcommunity of transgender military veterans, my view isn’t popular. Many focus on the harm she did to the nation’s security, and on how she violated not only standing orders not to release classified information, but the oath she took when she entered military service. I get it: it’s why I agree that at this point she shouldn’t be pardoned.

But justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, only concerned about punishments in the macro sense, and not about the individual people who are individually punished. Chelsea Manning is an individual who’s being punished: her mindset at the time of her crimes, how and when she accepted responsibility for her crimes and how she’s been and how she is currently being treated in confinement should all be considered when considering commutation and/or pardon for her offences.

I can’t help but think that it’s the right thing that President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence; it’s justice tempered with mercy.



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Posted by on Jan 19, 2017. Filed under Trans Progressive. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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