U.S. Army private Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military and government documents to Wikileaks in 2010, has been released after serving seven years at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Her sentence was commuted by then President Obama in January.
Manning, who before the incarceration identified as Bradley Manning, announced during her prison sentence she was transgender and changed her name to Chelsea. She later complained about a lack of medical attention for her gender dysmorphia and twice attempted suicide behind bars.
Manning’s ordeal began in 2010 when she, as a junior intelligence analyst, began to see the immoral and unethical way in which the United States were prosecuting wars in the middle east, including multiple attacks on Iraqi civilians and the inhumane torture and lack of due process for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Per the LA Times:
“Manning was a 22-year-old junior intelligence analyst at a base outside Baghdad in early 2010 when she began to illegally copy U.S. military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, battlefield videos and diplomatic cables from classified computer accounts.
She later acknowledged leaking more than 700,000 documents and other materials to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.”
In a statement read by her attorney after the conviction, Manning made clear the purpose of her leak:
“It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.”
The 35-year sentence is the largest that had ever been handed to a whistleblower in the U.S. Her seven years served is also the longest ever by anyone charged of similar crimes. None of this dissuades her critics, though, who believe Manning should be forced to serve out the remainder of her sentence due to the severity of her crimes. Many charge that she didn’t have the authority to release the documents and should instead have used normal military channels to air her concerns.
This criticism is so naive it borders on ridiculous. If the chain of command is complicit in the attacks and cover ups, as was made abundantly clear, how could a whistleblower possibly hope to effect change via normal channels?
After her release, Manning made this statement to ABC News, hopeful for the future:
“I appreciate the wonderful support that I have received from so many people across the world over these past years. As I rebuild my life, I remind myself not to relive the past. The past will always affect me and I will keep that in mind while remembering that how it played out is only my starting point, not my final destination.”