Who Is Chelsea Manning?
Bradley Manning was born on December 17, 1987. Years later, the Crescent, Oklahoma native, who is transgender, was granted the right to be legally recognized as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. After joining the Army and enduring harsh bullying, Manning was sent to Iraq in 2009. There she had access to classified information that she described as profoundly troubling. Manning gave much of this information to WikiLeaks and was later arrested after her actions were reported to the U.S. government by a hacker confidant.
On July 30, 2013, Manning was found guilty of espionage and theft, but not guilty of aiding the enemy. In August 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Serving time in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Manning was able to receive hormone treatments, although she has faced other restrictions around gender expression. On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted Manning's remaining sentence, and she was released from prison on May 17, 2017.
Bradley Manning was born in Crescent, Oklahoma on December 17, 1987. Years later, Manning announced that she is transgender and hence would be legally recognized as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.
As a child, Manning was highly intelligent and showed an affinity for computers. Though presenting as a boy during her youth, Manning dressed as a girl at times in private, feeling profoundly alienated and fearful about her secret. She was bullied at school and her mother also attempted suicide at one point. (Her father would later paint a more stable picture of the household.)
Joining the Army
After her parents split, Manning lived during her teens with her mother in Wales, where she was also bullied by peers. She eventually moved back to the United States to live with her stepmother and father, who was a former soldier. There the family had major clashes after Manning lost a tech job, and at one point Manning's stepmother called the police after a particularly volatile confrontation. The young Manning was then homeless, living in a pickup truck for a time and eventually moving in with her paternal aunt.
Manning joined the Army in 2007 at the behest of her father, girded by thoughts of serving her country and believing that a military environment might mitigate her desire to exist openly as a woman. She was initially the target of severe bullying there as well, and the besieged, emotionally suffering Manning lashed out at superior officers. But her posting at Fort Drum in New York had some happy moments. She began dating Tyler Watkins, a Brandeis University student who introduced Manning to Boston's hacker community.
Leak and Arrest
In 2009, Manning was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, an isolated site near the Iranian border. Her duties as an intelligence analyst there gave her access to a great deal of classified information. Some of this information—including videos that showed unarmed civilians being shot at and killed—horrified Manning.
Manning reportedly made her first contact with Julian Assange's WikiLeaks in November 2009 after having made attempts to contact The New York Times and The Washington Post. While at work in Iraq, she proceeded to amass information that included war logs about the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, private cables from the State Department and assessments of Guantánamo prisoners. In February 2010, while on leave in Rockville, Maryland, she passed this information—which amounted to hundreds of thousands of documents, many of them classified—to WikiLeaks. In April, the organization released a video that showed a helicopter crew shooting at civilians after having confused a telephoto lens for weaponry. Releases of other information continued throughout the year.
Upon her return to Iraq, Manning had behavioral issues that included attacking an officer. She was demoted and told she would be discharged. Manning subsequently reached out to a stranger online, hacker Adrian Lamo. Using the screen name "bradass87," Manning confided in Lamo about the leaks. Lamo contacted the Defense Department about what he had learned, which led to Manning's arrest in May 2010.
Manning was first imprisoned in Kuwait, where she became suicidal. After returning to the United States, she was moved to a Marine base in Virginia. Manning was kept in solitary confinement for most of her time there, and was unable to leave her small, windowless cell for 23 hours each day. Deemed a suicide risk, she was watched over constantly, sometimes kept naked in her cell and not permitted to have a pillow or sheets.
Even when a psychiatrist said that Manning was no longer a danger to herself, the conditions of her imprisonment did not improve. When word of these conditions spread, there was an international outcry. Manning was transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in 2011, where she was allowed to have personal effects in a windowed cell. In January 2013, the judge in Manning's case ruled that her imprisonment had been unduly harsh and gave her a sentencing credit.
Charges and Court Martial
In June 2010, Manning was charged with leaking classified information. In March 2011, additional charges were added. These included the accusation of aiding the enemy, as the information Manning had leaked had been accessible to Al-Qaeda.
In February 2013, Manning pleaded guilty to storing and leaking military information. She explained that her actions had been intended to encourage debate, not harm the United States. She continued to plead not guilty to several other charges while her court martial proceeded. On July 30, Manning was found guilty of 20 counts, including espionage, theft and computer fraud. However, the judge ruled she was not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge Manning had faced.
On August 21, 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Manning was dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and forced to forfeit all pay.
The Obama administration maintained that military and diplomatic sources were endangered by Manning's leaks. Even with Manning's conviction, the debate continues as to whether she shared dangerous intelligence or if she was a whistleblower who received too harsh of a punishment.
On the day after her sentencing, Manning announced via a statement on the morning talk show Today that she is transgender. "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible," Manning said.
After filing a court petition, Manning was granted the right in late April of 2014 to be legally recognized as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. The army made hormone therapy available to the former intelligence analyst, who continued to be held at Fort Leavenworth, though other restrictions were imposed, including measures on hair length. During the summer of 2015, Manning was reportedly threatened with solitary confinement for prison rule violations that her attorneys asserted were veiled forms of harassment by authorities.
In May 2016, Manning's attorneys filed an appeal of her conviction and 35-year sentence stating that “No whistleblower in American history has been sentenced this harshly,” and describing the sentence as "perhaps the most unjust sentence in the history of the military justice system.”
On July 5, 2016, Manning was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. She faced a disciplinary hearing related to her suicide attempt and was sentenced to solitary confinement. On October 4, 2016, while spending the first night in solitary confinement, she attempted suicide again.
Granted Clemency & Release
Support for her release continued to grow and in the waning days of President Barack Obama's presidency, 117,000 people signed a petition asking him to commute her sentence. On January 17, 2017, Obama did just that, cutting short Manning's remaining prison sentence, which allowed her to be freed on May 17, 2017. (An administration official said she was not immediately released in order to allow for time to handle items like procuring housing.) Manning served seven years of the 35-year sentence, with some Republicans, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, critiquing the act of clemency.
Manning has shared her perspectives on gender identity, imprisonment and political affairs via a series of columns written for The Guardian. Four months after her release from prison, Manning appeared in the September 2017 issue of Vogue magazine, featuring photographs by Annie Liebovitz. Manning posted a photograph from the article, in which she is wearing a red bathing suit on the beach, writing: “Guess this is what freedom looks like.”
“My goal is to use these next six months to figure out where I want to go,” Manning explained in the Vogue interview. “I have these values that I can connect with: responsibility, compassion. Those are really foundational for me. Do and say and be who you are because, no matter what happens, you are loved unconditionally.”
In early 2018, Manning announced she was challenging Maryland's two-term U.S. Senator Ben Cardin in the Democratic primary. Positioning herself to the left of her opponent, whom she dismissed as an establishment insider, she called for a reduced police presence in the streets and championed the idea of a universal basic income.
For Manning, who has lived in Maryland since her release from prison, the choice to run for office in "the place that I have the strongest roots and ties to out of anywhere else" was an easy one. However, her bid was considered a long shot against a popular incumbent, particularly after a pair of late-May tweets that sparked concern about her well-being.
Return to Custody
In late February 2019, Manning revealed that she was fighting a subpoena to testify before a grand jury about her interactions with WikiLeaks. She was taken into custody March 9, after a federal judge found her in contempt for her refusal to cooperate, and spent a month in solitary confinement in a Virginia prison before being moved into its general population.
In April, after Assange was arrested in London, it was reported that Manning's subpoena for grand jury testimony stemmed from her alleged online conversations with Assange around the time she forwarded the classified documents to WikiLeaks.
Manning was released from custody on May 9 and immediately summoned to appear before a new grand jury. However, she refused to comply once again and was sent back to jail on May 16.
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