Chelsea Manning: I leaked reports after seeing how Americans ignored wars

Manning describes ‘two worlds’ – one in the US and one she witnessed in Iraq – in New York Times interview days after her release from military prison

Chelsea Manning had not planned to share government documents with the public until she saw how disengaged her fellow Americans were from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during a two-week leave from her posting at a military base outside of Baghdad.

Manning left the base having illegally downloaded US military reports from both wars and unsure of how she would use the information, collected after spending hours as an intelligence official watching night-vision video and reading battle reports as bombs went off in the distance.

“There were two worlds,” Manning told the New York Times magazine in an interview published Monday. “The world in America, and the world I was seeing [in Iraq]. I wanted people to see what I was seeing”.

Manning, 29, said she attempted to contact the New York Times and spoke to a Washington Post reporter during this period but neither newspaper was quick to respond so she gave the information to WikiLeaks, which went on to partner with news organizations including the Guardian to share the leaked information.

Manning said she learned about WikiLeaks during a security training course in 2008 and had begun chatting online with people about the site in 2009. She distinguished her views on leaking from the organization’s, which has propagated a full transparency ethos.

She said that then and now, she believed “there are plenty of things that should be kept secret”.

“Let’s protect sensitive sources,” Manning said. “Let’s protect troop movements. Let’s protect nuclear information. Let’s not hide missteps. Let’s not hide misguided policies. Let’s not hide history. Let’s not hide who we are and what we are doing.”

She provided WikiLeaks with the video Collateral Murder, which showed the US army killing a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Reuters employees. Manning was arrested shortly after the video’s release and was not aware of the fallout from her decision until she transferred to the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia – four days after the Afghan war logs appeared in the Guardian. At Quantico, she realized she was internationally famous when a marine knew her name and said she had been all over Fox News.

Manning spoke to the NYT eight days after being released from military prison – seven years into a 35-year sentence that Barack Obama commuted in January.

The interview also delved into her public coming out as a transgender person – a move that came after nearly two decades of struggling to have that identity acknowledged by family, friends and her employer.

Manning said that she had first articulated her female identity at age five and went on to wear her sister’s clothes and use her makeup. She came out as gay in elementary school and was bullied.

She moved with her mother to Wales in 2001 after her parents separated and said she had more freedom there to wear makeup and would spend time in LGBT chat rooms. Her schooling there was also the source of a political awakening as she studied American history and became skeptical of the American invasion of Iraq.

She returned to the US in 2005 and said she joined the military because of patriotism and the structure she had seen it give to her father’s life. “I just felt like maybe I could make a difference,” she said.

She went to basic training and took intelligence courses before her deployment to Iraq.

“I had seen imagery for nine or 10 months prior,” Manning said. “I knew the landscape so well from the air that I recognized these neighborhoods, and it woke me up to see people walking around and to see people driving and to see the buildings and the trees below.”

“At a certain point,” she said, “I stopped seeing records and started seeing people.”

She said her time in Iraq transformed her, and the same two-week leave period that prompted her to share government documents also granted her an opportunity to walk around Washington while openly identifying as a woman. “Being exposed to so much death on a daily basis makes you grapple with your own mortality,” she said.

Manning is now adjusting to life on the outside and an agent is seeking a publisher for her 300-page memoir. She will appear in a documentary called XY Chelsea this fall, produced by Laura Poitras, the film-maker entrusted with Edward Snowden’s leaked NSA documents in 2013.


Amanda Holpuch in New York

The GuardianTramp

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