Scott D. Cosenza

Scott D. Cosenza, Esq. writes extensively on legal issues and is the Policy Director for One Generation Away.

Chelsea Manning is free today.  Despite her sentence of 35 years in prison delivered in 2013 for giving “more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, a gigantic leak that lifted the veil on American military and diplomatic activities around the world.”  Manning, a transsexual known then as Bradley Manning, was a Military Intelligence Analyst – a junior enlisted U.S. Army soldier with the rank of Specialist serving with 10th Mountain Division stationed in Iraq when arrested.  President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence three days before his second term expired, shaving all but four months of the sentence.

As the New York Times reported at the time of sentencing:

The materials that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks included a video taken during an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which civilians were killed, including two journalists. He also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables, dossiers of detainees being imprisoned without trial at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Titled “Collateral Murder”, the helicopter attack video was posted online by Wikileaks, and the most widely seen copy on YouTube has almost sixteen million views.  The diplomatic cables’ release proved embarrassing to the U.S. government, chiefly because they revealed other governments leaders and diplomats’ words.  Those words were often attributable to them by name, and as the Post said, expressing concerns they have not previously expressed publicly:

One cable asserts that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly asked the United States to “cut off the head of the snake”- presumably meaning to attack Iran’s nuclear program – while there was still time. Another quotes a senior Saudi official as warning that if Iran is not stopped, gulf Arab states would develop their own nuclear weapons.

Manning was turned in by Adrian Lamo, a former computer hacker who reported him to the authorities.  In chat logs now published which were recorded at the time of the release of the video, Manning said to Lamo that his goal was to see reforms enacted as a result of releases:

(02:18:34 AM) info@adrianlamo.com: what’s your endgame plan, then?

(02:22:27 AM) bradass87: hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms

(02:23:06 AM) bradass87: if not… than we’re doomed

(02:23:18 AM) bradass87: as a species

(02:24:13 AM) bradass87: i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens

(02:24:58 AM) bradass87: the reaction to the video gave me immense hope… CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed… Twitter exploded…

Manning clearly saw the release as whistleblowing, thought the government disagreed and charged him with “aiding the enemy,” the most serious of the many charges entered, and one that carried the death penalty upon conviction.  Colonel Denise R. Lind, the Army judge in the case, found Manning not guilty of this crime.

After the conviction, Manning proved to be a thorn in the side of the Obama administration, which earned a firestorm of protest in asking for a 60-year sentence, and because Manning was tortured while in custody at Marine Corps Base Quantico.  Kept nude and made to stand in stress positions while subject to constant light, as well as subjected to sleep deprivation, Manning’s guards engaged in many classic torture techniques.

In one instance Manning was complaining about the conditions of pre-trial confinement, which were onerous in part because Manning was on suicide watch.  After joking “[i]f I really wanted to kill myself, I could use my underwear,” Manning’s underwear was then confiscated.  In April 2011, P.J. Crowley, then Chief spokesperson for the State Department had to resign after he went on public record condemning Manning’s treatment in custody.  “What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defense.”

President Trump commented on Manning calling her an “Ungrateful TRAITOR” in a tweet less than a week after he was sworn in.

Now Private Chelsea Manning, whose rank was reduced upon conviction, will remain in the Army while her appeal is processed, and while unpaid, is eligible for “continued health care and other benefits.”

Upon release, Manning posted this Instagram:

First steps of freedom!! 😄 . . #chelseaisfree

A post shared by Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea87) on