Life has been pretty good for Chelsea Manning ever since her sentence was commuted by Barack Obama – one of the few surprising left-of-centre moves he made during his last year in office.
When she’s not making jokes about the FBI agents the following her every move, she’s been an active Twitter presence, protestor, and now makes a living as an in-demand public speaker, even though she’s allowed to discuss the leaks she was imprisoned for. She’s even been a Senate candidate, finishing second place in the nomination race in her state of Maryland.
That being said, she still faces numerous issues when it comes to earning a living – having a conviction for treason permanently tied to your name will do that to you.
A key point to remember is that her sentence was shortened by President Obama, she was not pardoned. That means that obtaining Visas for international speaking engagements is a continual problem for her. Foreign nations get nervous when political prisoners, even “free” ones, try to enter their borders. She was denied entry to Canada last year for this very reason: having treason attached to your name, regardless of what war crimes were revealed by her honourable actions, makes foreign nations unlikely to greet you with open arms.
This presents the problem of travelling to New Zealand for ‘An Evening with Chelsea Manning’ – the National party have very loudly demanded that she be denied entry, and for a couple of days, it did look like the Government would cave in to pressure and reject Manning.
However, on the day of writing, this issue has been resolved and Ms Manning has the unequivocal right to do her talks here. Immigration New Zealand declared that she presented no risk and, much to the consternation of National, gladly let her into the country. But the background to this decision has caused both smirks and frowns.
She was supposed to do an in-person talk in Australia, something which even she had doubts about whether she’d actually make it inside the borders. This is Australia, after all: they are angling to be the America of the South Pacific on every angle. And she was right to harbour those doubts – no doubt trying to please American interests, Australia’s Immigration department denied her ability to enter the country. There have also been rumblings that her mere presence would shine unfavourable eyes on the political instability once again ravaging the incumbent government. But again, this was expected. So, she instead conferenced via video link with Peter Greste, an Australian journalist, with a sizable audience at Greste’s location.
What is most interesting about the build-up to Manning’s visit to our shores is that the notorious Free Speech Coalition, a group of supposedly egalitarian free speech absolutists that have made a name for themselves as being Don Brash’s cheerleaders, gave an enthusiastic nod of approval to Manning’s right to speak here – something which caused various eyebrows to raise, given that the membership of the coalition are not known for having favourable views on remotely leftist ideals or figures. It’s a smart strategic move to keep up a veneer of consistency.
I wholeheartedly welcome Manning into New Zealand – she’s a wonderful person with moral convictions that betray the immorality she’s had to abide by for close to a decade now, and I am glad that our Government saw fit to lend credence to that idea.