NEWS

Chelsea Manning Released: Who Is The Whistleblower And Wikileaks Source?

She has been in prison for seven years.

16/05/2017 18:42 | Updated 17 May 2017

Who is Chelsea Manning?

Handout . / Reuters
A 2010 image of Chelsea Manning released after her 2013 conviction

Born Bradley Manning, Chelsea Manning, 29, is an ex-US Army intelligence officer who was convicted of leaking a trove of secret documents in 2010.

Her leaks formed the basis of a series of exposés on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, published by Wikileaks in conjunction with The Guardian and The New York Times.

She was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 for espionage. She came out as a transgender woman shortly afterwards.

What did she leak?

Ho New / Reuters
A still from US military footage showing its helicopters firing on a group of people, including two journalists, in Baghdad

Manning joined the army in 2007 and was sent to Iraq two years later. In 2010, she copied 700,000 files - including battlefield video and US embassy cables - to a blank CD and smuggled it out of her base.

She gave it to then relatively-unknown Wikileaks. The most famous item was a clip that showed a US apache helicopter crew open fire on a group of people in Baghdad in July2007, killing at least nine men including two Reuters journalists.

Wikileaks said the revelations about corruption in countries like Tunisia helped spark the Arab Spring series of revolutions across north Africa and the Middle East in 2011.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange insisted no harm came to any one but the US Government has said the leak compromised the names of people working with the US in repressive regimes.

Philip Crowley, former US Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, said the ultimate damage done to American national security was “limited” but said it was “quite likely” people died as a result of the leak. “I can’t say for certain. Julian Assange has said a number of times that nobody came to harm but he can’t say that either,” he said.

Why did she do it?

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Bradley Manning is escorted into court to be sentenced

Writing in The New York Times in 2014, Manning said she leaked the documents “out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others”. She said the US military restricted the media’s ability to report on the conduct of the wars. “I believe that the current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance,” she wrote.

Before she was sentenced in 2013, she did say she “hurt” the USA. She told the judge at her sentencing hearing: “I’m sorry I hurt people. I’m sorry that I hurt the United States.”

Who supported her?

Pacific Press via Getty Images

Manning’s imprisonment was a cause célèbre for people advocating the rights of whistleblowers. As well as Assange, she was supported by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. Other celebrities like REM’s Micheal Stipe and designer Vivienne Westwood also backed her. The petition calling on Obama to commute her sentence had reached 100,000 signatures by the time it happened.

As anticipation of a possible commutation grew in the last days of Obama’s presidency, fellow leaker Edward Snowden tweeted: “Mr President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life.” 

When is she being released?

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in one of his final acts as president in January. Donald Trump called her an “ungrateful traitor”. She will walk free from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on Wednesday, three decades early. It is expected to happen in the early morning. She has been in prison for seven years.

Speaking from her cell, she told The Guardian: “I’m looking forward to breathing the warm spring air again.

“I want that indescribable feeling of connection with people and nature again, without razor wire or a visitation booth. I want to be able to hug my family and friends again. And swimming – I want to go swimming!”

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