R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe leads the charge to paint Chelsea Manning as a hero, not a traitor.

Some of the biggest names in music are giving newly released prisoner Chelsea Manning a hero’s welcome.

The former military intelligence analyst once known as Bradley Manning became a free woman May 17. Manning’s 35-year sentence on multiple charges was commuted by outgoing President Barack Obama.

A number of prominent musicians just kicked off a fundraising effort, dubbed “Hugs For Chelsea” on Manning’s behalf. To date, 39 musicians have contributed songs to the album, where all proceeds will go directly to Manning.

Tom Morello, Graham Nash and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. fame are among the dozens lending content to the fundraiser. (Stipe’s contribution appears to be limited to dashed-off 30 second PSA, shot on his phone.)

“[Chelsea Manning] is very brave and what she did was show some truth to the American people about what the government was doing in our name. God bless her,” says Nash in the album notes.

Morello (a supporter of Cuba’s communist leadership) stated “Chelsea, thank you for your bravery. You’re a true American hero and an inspiration. Welcome home.”

This type of advocacy suggests what Manning did in releasing classified documents and videos was a public service.

Not everyone sees it that way.

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Some view the passing of classified documents and military intelligence to WikiLeaks as more than merely treasonous. It’s a threat to the lives of military personnel and their foreign assets.

Others, like Morello and co., describe what Manning did as “whistle-blowing” and position the acts in a heroic fashion. President Obama alluded to this latter position in his comments regarding his decision to commute the sentence.

“It was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers have received. I feel very comfortable that justice has been served. Let’s be clear: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. The notion that the average person who is thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished … I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served ”

Military leaders were notably upset with the decision. CNN shared the following reaction:

“A former intelligence official described being ‘shocked’ to learn of Obama’s decision, adding that the ‘entire intelligence community is deflated by this inexplicable use of executive power.’ The official said the move was ‘deeply hypocritical given Obama’s denunciation of WikiLeaks’ role in the hacking of the (Democratic National Committee).’ “

This underscores the gulf between those wanting to paint Manning as a martyred hero or a traitor.

The spin that Manning was a mere whistle-blowing activist ignores the facts of the case. Unlike prior examples, where individuals disclosed crucial pieces of intel or provided insight to specific machinations, Manning transferred an immense amount of military data.

The disclosed material included more than 250,000 diplomatic cables; close to half a million Army reports and numerous videos of real-time battlefield maneuvers.

Team Manning shared an official statement following her release. Upon the release from prison an official statement was distributed through representatives, with comments by Manning, the legal team and even The ACLU. The language is choked with spin and the laughable eliding of key facts.

MANNING LEGAL TEAM: 

  • Next week, Chelsea Manning will be released from U.S. military prison after serving a seven-year sentence for disclosing classified information that raised public awareness regarding the impact of war on innocent civilians. 

(It also did wonders for raising our enemies’ awareness of military actions, classified operations and foreign intel assets.)

  • Manning, a transgender woman, was serving an unprecedented 35-year sentence for whistleblowing.

(“Unprecedented” due to the unprecedented level of espionage conducted.)

  • The commutation followed a November 2016 request from Chelsea Manning’s appellate legal team… requesting the commutation of Ms. Manning’s 35 year court-martial sentence to time served and a first chance to live a real, meaningful life.

(The Army initially could have charged Manning with “aiding the enemy,” which carries a death sentence or life in prison. The chance at any life should be regarded as something fortunate.)

CHELSEA MANNING

  • Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones.

(The freedom of those directly impacted by the intelligence leaked, both in the military and our foreign allies, will not be addressed, presumably.)

  • …After nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts. 

(The level of surprise at being incarcerated following a conviction is notable. That solitary confinement, and restricted autonomy, were largely a result of the threats of suicide made by Manning. That was undertaken so that “chance of a meaningful life” can may now place, but of course no gratitude is offered. As for the haircut — that takes place from Day-1 of basic training. To make that an issue is, well, laughable.)

CLEMENCY & APPELLATE LAWYERS

  • President Obama’s act of commutation was the first time the military took care of this soldier who risked so much to disclose information that served the public interest.

(I hope everyone notes how ungrateful the military was towards Manning’s illegality in compromising operations and disclosing classified intel that endangered lives. Very rude!)

  • And we thank the many, many people and organizations who have supported her and continue to support her as we fight in her appeal to clear her name.

(Um, how do you “clear the name” of those proven guilty?)

Those wishing to herald the actions here ignore reality. In the court martial proceedings the scope and breadth of the intel leak meant Manning was charged with 22 acts of espionage. The decision came in with 20 “guilty” convictions. This can’t be excused as “the system” steamrolling an innocent. Of those convictions, 10 were the result of Manning offering up guilty pleas.

In the court Manning made a statement that also points to rather blatant admission of wrong doing:

  • I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States. I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people. … At the time of my decisions I was dealing with a lot of issues.”

This is who these valiant musicians want to elevate. A convicted enemy of the state who admits guilt and who acknowledges their actions were very wrong.

To couch this as the behavior of a wrongfully-charged hero is ignoring the central facts of the case, applauding more classified intel breaches, or encouraging outright treasonous activity. Noting the past activist activities of the acts on the album, most likely a combination of those conditions is in play.

Photo credit: marniejoyce via Foter.com / CC BY