Exclusive: WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning's Welsh relatives helped by ex-prisoner to fund trips to visit her in Kansas prison
… but man jailed after Gulf War protest has so far only raised £465 to pay for flights to the US
Monday 09 September 2013
The Welsh family of jailed WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning have received donations from an ex-convict holding fundraising gigs on their behalf as they are struggling to fund trips to visit her in prison in Kansas.
Having already made four trips to see Manning, who recently changed her first name from Bradley and announced her desire to be referred to as a woman, members of the British side of the family are facing the prospect of shelling out thousands more pounds for trips to America.
They have now been offered help with the cost of visits from Ciaron O'Reilly, who spent 13 months in US prisons for damaging military planes in protest against the 1991 Gulf War.
Manning, 25, has been sentenced to 35 years at the Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas.
She submitted a formal appeal to President Barack Obama and the secretary of the US army, John McHugh, for a pardon or a reduction in his prison term. She has also requested hormone treatment for her gender dysphoria.
The soldier’s aunt Sharon Staples, her husband Joe, an uncle named Kevin Fox, and Manning’s mother Susan, who is currently too ill to travel after suffering a stroke, met Mr O’Reilly last month at a pub in their home town of Haverfordwest in Pembrokshire.
He has so far handed them £465, donated by audiences at several benefit gigs and speeches – including one that featured a performance from Jello Biafra, the former frontman of rock band the Dead Kennedys.
O’Reilly plans to hold more events in Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast to raise more money.
Ms Staples told The Independent: “We are very grateful. Having this support will make a massive difference to our lives.”
She added: “It takes a lot of pressure off us having to find all the money ourselves each time we want to go over and having to cut back on other things to do this. We hope it will give us the chance to maybe make two visits a year rather than one.”
Mr O’Reilly has also offered to help the family with free transport in the US, where he is in contact with other former prisoners.
He says he felt obliged to help the family after worrying about his own mother and father whilst behind bars.
“I’m hoping to cover the costs of the family’s four previous visits [and] that’ll play out in terms of future visits,” O’Reilly said.
He is already a friend and supporter of Julian Assange, the founder of whistle blowing website WikiLeaks, which published thousands of Manning’s leaked files, including footage from a US helicopter gunship of an attack that killed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists in 2007.
Mr O’Reilly described the family as “very solid, humble, sound people” who were curious to hear about his time in a US jail. “I didn’t think they realised how big this is,” he added.
Manning will be eligible for parole in about eight years.
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