President Obama, Please Save Chelsea Manning

After serving more time in prison than any whistleblower in United States history, it is time for Chelsea to be released.

chase strangio
4 min readNov 19, 2016

Dear President Obama:

Chelsea Manning is my friend and hero and I am worried she will not survive much longer.

I first met Chelsea on August 22, 2013— the day she announced to the world that she is a transgender woman named “Chelsea”. By then it had been years since she was first arrested for disclosing classified documents to the news media to expose U.S. government abuses being perpetrated around the world. She had already endured unthinkable nightmares both prior to and during her time in custody including torturous conditions of solitary confinement while detained at Quantico before the start of her trial. But despite all that she had experienced and the terror of the thirty-five year sentence before her, she was still more concerned about the well-being of those who were worried about her than her own needs.

Since that day more than three years ago, I have gotten to know Chelsea as a client, a friend and a human being. Knowing her has made me a better person, a better advocate, and a more engaged citizen of the world.

It is easy to be complacent or give in to your demons. It is easy to see injustice and remain silent. It is easy to fear violence and repress your truth. But Chelsea does not succumb to the easy, instead she fights boldly for what she believes is right and just.

Perhaps even more remarkable than her bravery and brilliance, though, is Chelsea’s capacity for care and empathy. As lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote in his letter of support for her clemency petition:

“Whenever I have spoken with her about her prison life, she expresses nothing but compassion and understanding even for her jailers. She is devoid of the resentments and grievances which are common even among those with blessed lives, let alone those facing great deprivation. It’s difficult to believe for those who don’t know Chelsea — and even for those of us who do — but the longer she has been in prison, the more compassionate and concerned for others she has become.”

She is a gift to the world and we are at risk of losing her way too soon.

After six and a half years in custody — already the longest prison term served by a whistleblower in the history of the United States — Chelsea has applied to you for clemency. She is asking only for time served and a first chance, as she explains in her application, “to live my life outside the USDB as the person I was born to be.”

This request comes at the peak of Chelsea’s escalating trauma and despair and on the eve of a new Administration’s rise to power. Her life is in your hands.

In the past six months, Chelsea has attempted to end her life twice and been punished for those attempts. Last year she was punished for possessing reading materials like Caitlyn Jenner’s cover issue of Vanity Fair and an allegedly-expired tube of toothpaste. All this after the pain of serving in the Army for years under both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the ban on open transgender service. After 11 months in solitary confinement at Quantico. After a childhood of abuse, homelessness, and poverty.

On top of that, with almost three decades left of her sentence, she lives day in and day out with the perpetual reminder that the government is invested in stripping away the core of who she is — a woman. If you do not act to free her now, she may never be free to live the truth that she for so long was forced to repress.

Your Justice Department has stood boldly for transgender people and for that I am grateful. On May 9, 2016, Attorney General Lynch and Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta spoke directly to our community and in defense not just of our rights but of our dignity as human beings. AAG Gupta poignantly proclaimed the simple truth that “Transgender men are men — they live, work and study as men. Transgender women are women — they live, work and study as women.” But Chelsea Manning, a woman, has been held in a men’s facility since her arrest in 2010 and your same Justice Department has been fighting to deny her the basic dignity of being treated as the woman that she is while incarcerated. Why does she lose her womanhood? And how can we expect her to survive in the face of such unrelenting violence and erasure?

This Sunday, November 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), I will travel to the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, to visit with Chelsea and give her my love and support. My greatest fear is that next TDOR or one in the coming years, we will be mourning Chelsea’s death.

I will never stop fighting for Chelsea and my transgender siblings. When I talk to my four year-old about justice, we talk about what it means that Chelsea is locked away and unable to see, touch and share time with her friends and family. We speak about her bravery. She is a hero to my family and to so many people around the world.

Six and a half years is enough. She is in pain. She is afraid.

Please commute her sentence.

Very truly yours,

Chase Strangio