Who Is Chelsea Manning?

Bradley Manning Trial
Sketch of Chelsea Manning Trial Courtesy of Deb Van Poolen, (www.debvanpoolen.com)

Who is Chelsea Manning?

Chelsea Manning is a former private first class in the US Army and whistleblower who leaked 700,000 classified US State Department and military documents.

At the time of the leaks and her military court martial in Ft. Meade, Maryland, Manning was known as Bradley Manning. Ft. Meade is a military installation and the home base of the National Security Agency (NSA).

On Aug. 21, 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. She has since been imprisoned in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

One day after she was convicted on 20 charges, including six under the Espionage Act, Manning said in a statement to NBC’s Today Show, “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”

Chelsea Manning is now 29 years old.

Manning, a native of Crescent, Oklahoma, joined the U.S. Army in October 2007 and was deployed to Iraq two years later.

What did Chelsea Manning Leak?

The Manning disclosures were made to WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower site.

The first of Manning’s leaks to shake the world was a video dubbed, “Collateral Murder,” which documented the slaughter of a dozen unarmed civilians and two Reuters photo journalists. The video was taken from the cockpit of a US Apache Helicopter.

Service members are heard saying:

“Let’s shoot…Light ’em all up…Come on, fire!” And much more.


In a statement read in court on Feb. 28, 2013, Manning said of the video:

“They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed not to value human life, and referred to them as quote-unquote ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulated each other on their ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage…For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”

Next to hit were the Afghan War Diaries—comprised of more than 75,000 US military reports from 2004-2010.

From the Guardian, which was among the first to report on the disclosures: “A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.”

Three months later, WikiLeaks and various news agencies released the Iraq War Logs, which was the largest classified military leak in history. The leaks exposed detention of prisoners and thousands of civilian deaths. The massive trove included about 400,000 US military reports.

In November 2010, WikiLeaks released US diplomatic cables that rocked the US State Department.

In April 2011, WikiLeaks released the “GITMO Files,” which documented the cases of several hundred Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The prison was opened in 2002 and remains open despite its dwindling population.

Chelsea Manning
A drawing of Chelsea Manning by Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea Manning, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network.

How was Chelsea Manning caught?

Manning was detained and arrested in May 2010 and officially charged a month later. Investigators were able to hone in on Manning after an informant turned over chat logs to the FBI. The informant was a former hacker who Manning had been communicating with. It was during the instant message exchange that Manning discussed the leaks.

What happened next?

Prior to her court martial, Manning was moved to Quantico, Virgina, where she was held in solitary confinement for nearly a year. Manning’s treatment prompted a condemnation from the United Nationals special rapporteur on torture. In March 2011, Manning’s charges were upgraded to include the most serious accusation of “aiding the enemy.” It was that very same day that US State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley criticized the government’s treatment of Manning, calling it “ridiculous.” Crowley would eventually resign.

When was Chelsea Manning’s trial?

Manning’s court martial began in June 2013. The court hearing lasted nearly two months and culminated in her conviction on 20 charges. Manning, however, was acquitted on the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

Two months later, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The day following her conviction, Manning revealed to the Today Show in a statement through her attorney that she was changing her name to Chelsea and identifies as a female.

What happened after Chelsea Manning was convicted?

Manning has since been imprisoned at Ft. Leavenworth. She and her lawyers have since been petitioning the government to approve treatment for gender dysphoria. The U.S. Army earlier this year finally agreed to allow Manning follow through with the treatment. The Army’s decision was preceded by a hunger strike that Manning did not end until her treatment was approved. Manning has also twice attempted suicide in prison and was placed in solitary confinement.

What has Manning said about the leaks?

After her conviction, Manning said in a statement: “The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.”

What’s the latest?

Before leaving office, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentencing. She will be released in May.

On May 9, Manning released the following statement:

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts. I am forever grateful to the people who kept me alive, President Obama, my legal team and countless supporters.

“I watched the world change from inside prison walls and through the letters that I have received from veterans, trans young people, parents, politicians and artists. My spirits were lifted in dark times, reading of their support, sharing in their triumphs, and helping them through challenges of their own. I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others.”

On May 17, Manning was released from prison.

In a statement to ABC News following her release, Manning said: “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.”

Who are some other key players?

Julian Assange – He is the mercurial founder of WikiLeaks, a whistleblower site. Through his leaks, Assange became an enemy of the United States. As such, it was reported that federal prosecutors had convened a grand jury to look into whether or not to charge Assange in the leaks. Assange is currently in self-imprisonment at the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid what he deems are trumped up sexual assault charges in Sweden.

David Coombs – Coombs was Manning’s criminal attorney during the court martial.

U.S. Army Judge Col. Denise Lind – Lind was the judge during Manning’s court martial. On Aug. 21, 2013, Lind sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison. Military prosecutors had sought a 60-year sentence.

President Barack Obama – Obama was president when the leaks occurred. In reference to Manning’s case, Obama on one occasion, said: “We are a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates.” The Obama administration made history by prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous president’s combined.

Alexa O’Brien – O’Brien is an independent journalist. She was one of the few reporters covering Manning’s court martial from start to finish. In lieu of court reporters, O’Brien single-handedly transcribed the proceedings on her website.Among the contingent of reporters covering the proceedings on a regular basis were: Kevin Gosztola, reporting for FireDogLake.com, the Associated Press’ David Dishneau, Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News Service, a news wire, and Nathan Fuller of the Bradley Manning Support Network, make up the core of stalwarts covering the case.

Here’s her interview with Coombs:

Timeline of events

October 2007 – Manning joins Army.

October 2007 – Manning deployed to Iraq.

April 5, 2010 – Collateral Murder video released.

May 27, 2010 – Manning detained at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

May 29, 2010 – Manning arrested.

June 5, 2010 – Manning charged.

July 25, 2010 – Afghan War Diary released.

July 29, 2010 – Manning moved to Quantico, VA. Held in solitary confinement.

Oct. 22, 2010 – Iraq War Logs released.

Nov. 28, 2010 – US Diplomatic cables released.

March 11, 2011 – Manning charges updated, including aiding them enemy. Same day State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley calls Manning’s treatment “ridiculous” and later resigns.

April 20, 2011 – Manning moved Ft. Leavenworth.

April 25, 2011 – Guantanamo Bay files released.

Feb. 28, 2013 – Manning pleaded guilty to misusing classified information.

June 3, 2013 – Manning court martial begins.

July 30, 2013 – Manning found guilty of 20 charges, plus six under Espionage Act. Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy charge.

Aug. 21, 2013 – Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Aug. 22, 2013 – Revealed on Today Show that Manning changing name to Chelsea and is female.

May 19, 2016 – Manning files 209-page appeal.

Jan. 11, 2017 – NBC News reports Manning is on President Obama’s “short list” to have sentence commuted.

Related stories

“Revolution’s Family Tree: Franklin and Adams to Manning and Snowden” was a behind-the-scenes look at the Manning trial and the few reporters providing daily coverage of the proceedings. The controversial court martial had ramifications on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It had ramifications on the Fourth Amendment. And it spoke to a larger discussion regarding the lack of whistleblower protections, especially for those employed in the national security and intelligence sectors. The Press went to Ft. Meade, Maryland to cover the proceedings and to get a taste of a trial in which much was cloaked from public view.

Here is the video that accompanied the story:

Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison

was about Manning’s conviction, which was not at all surprising. Prosecutors had sought a much stiffer sentence of at least 60 years in prison.

“Whistleblower Chelsea Manning Appeals ‘Unprecedented’ Sentence”

was an article based on Manning’s formal appeal. In their 209-page appeal, Manning’s lawyers said the whistleblower was convinced disclosing the cache of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks “was the right thing to do.” It includes an interview with one of Manning’s appellate attorneys.

Snowden Advocacy & Manning Isolation Underscore Whistleblower Risks

took a look at petitions sent to President Obama calling for a presidential pardon of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Meanwhile, Manning has been holed up in a prison in Kansas.

Report: Chelsea Manning On Obama’s ‘Short List’ For Commutation” was based on a report by NBC News in which an anonymous Justice Department official said Manning was on Obama’s “short list” for clemency.