‘I hope that you will continue supporting my fight for justice. My case impacts important issues that affect many, if not all, Americans.’
Chelsea Manning is a whistleblower who was working for the US military as a data analyst during the US-led coalition war in Afghanistan. She is currently serving a 35-year sentence in military prison for leaking classified US government documents to the Wikileaks website, and revealing to the public that the US army, the CIA and Iraqi and Afghan forces committed human rights violations.
Chelsea has always claimed that she released information in the public interest. The crimes she exposed have never been investigated.
We continue to call for Chelsea's release.
Sentenced to 35 years
On 21 August 2013 Private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for handing over documents to WikiLeaks during 2009 and 2010 – the biggest information leak in US military history.
Chelsea was found guilty of numerous offences, including theft and espionage. During her trial she was banned from presenting her evidence or the motives behind her actions, including her claim that she was acting in the public interest in exposing military abuses.
Until her trial, Chelsea was known as Private Bradley Manning. She now identifies as a woman.
Blowing the whistle on human rights abuses
While stationed in Iraq between November 2009 and May 2010, US military analyst Chelsea obtained and distributed classified military information to the WikiLeaks website. She was arrested in May 2010 after a former computer hacker reported Chelsea to the FBI.
Chelsea says she acted with the intention of exposing potential human rights abuses by the US army and its allies, in order to open up informed public debate around American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.’
Information leaked by Chelsea included details of potential human rights abuses, including a secret attack by a US Apache helicopter in Baghdad, in which US soldiers killed 12 people, including civilians. To date, there has been no independent and impartial investigation into this attack – US authorities have focused on charging Chelsea, rather than investigating the content of material she drew attention to.
After her arrest, Chelsea was held for three years in pre-trial detention. She was kept in solitary confinement for eleven months of her pre-trial detention, in conditions that amount to torture, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Chelsea was confined in a windowless six-metre cell for 23 hours a day, without personal possessions, bed sheets, and at times even her glasses. While she was seen as a suicide risk, Chelsea was only allowed to wear her boxer shorts in her cell, and was sometimes forced to go without even her underwear.
Chelsea has described how she was verbally harassed just before the suicide watch began and how she believed that it was a punishment imposed upon her as a retribution for a protest at the conditions of her detention that had been held outside the detention centre the previous day.
At her July 2013 trial, Chelsea was not allowed to present evidence that she was acting in the public interest – her defense all along; instead she could only explain her motives when she was being sentenced, and the judgment had already been made.
Overcharged as a warning to others
‘I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society’.
Chelsea pleaded guilty to charges involving the leaking of the classified material. However, the military brought several much more serious charges against her, including violating America’s Espionage Act and ‘aiding the enemy’. She was not convicted of 'aiding the enemy' but was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act on numerous counts.
Prosecuting beyond the information leak to WikiLeaks constitutes ‘overcharging’: rather than punishing Chelsea just for the leaking offences she had already admitted to, the prosecution brought wider ideological charges against her. In doing so, the prosecution said they intended to send a harsh warning to other potential whistleblowers – an action that could prevent information about human rights abuses and wrongdoing being revealed by military personnel in future.