Chelsea Manning is not yet free

January 29, 2017

From the January-February 2017 issue of News & Letters

As the Obama administration had hinted, Chelsea Manning received a Presidential commutation and will be released in May. But Manning deserves much more than a commutation. She is owed a pardon, compensation and an apology.

How Chelsea Manning sees herself. By Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Manning, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, April 23, 2014.

How Chelsea Manning sees herself. By Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Manning, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, April 23, 2014.

From 2009 until her arrest in 2010, Manning was in Iraq working as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. She was haunted by what she was seeing and hearing about frequent human rights abuses against civilians. She saw a 2007 video showing two separate helicopter gunners who fired on civilians in Baghdad. She may have seen an encrypted video taken from the B-1 bomber involved in an aerial bombing of Garani, Afghanistan, in 2009, which killed 48 adults and 92 children.

In addition, Manning witnessed numerous attempts to help the Shi’a-nationalist Nouri Al-Maliki crush the Iraqis’ clamor for new beginnings. She wrote this to The New York Times in June 2014:


“Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.

“Early that year [election year 2010], I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing ‘anti-Iraqi literature.’ I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn’t need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more ‘anti-Iraqi’ print shops.”

Faced with the gross intransigence of her superiors, Manning decided she would have to release this information to the press, both the aforementioned videos and a cache of diplomatic cables. She hoped public awareness would be a brake on the conduct she was reading about and watching.


Manning was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in military prison, which is where she has been since her arrest in 2010.

By early 2014, the northwest of Iraq had experienced so much Sunni disaffection and misery—with no viable alternative to Shi’a domination—that the horrific ideologues of ISIS were able to roll in and conquer all of Mosul by June.

Chelsea Manning, a person who witnessed despicable acts in the so-called “War on Terror” and tried her best to help the U.S. avoid greater catastrophes, will be released from custody in May, but deserves much more.

Manning needs to be respected as a Transgender woman wherever she is. While she remains in military custody, she needs to be given her medications and all her mail, and to live without being under a torturous system. Chelsea Manning is a profoundly principled person. She deserves to get out of prison now.

—Buddy Bell

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