Chelsea Manning, in her first interview since being released from prison, has said she had a responsibility to the public to leak the classified information that saw her being charged and jailed for 35 years.
“I accept the responsibility. No one asked me to do this. It’s on me,” she said.
Asked if she considered herself a traitor, she added: “I’ve a responsibility to the public. We all have a responsibility to the public.”
Ms Manning was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 35 years by a military tribunal under the Espionage and Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts for releasing over 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks.
Among the information she shared was video footage that showed US helicopters in a fatal attack on people in Baghdad, who turned out to be civilians. A Reuters cameraman and his driver were among those killed.
Ms Manning was released from jail after serving seven years of her federal sentence. Her punishment was commuted by Barack Obama in his final days of office, a move for which she thanked him for in the interview with ABC News, saying he had given her “another chance”.
The 29-year-old also talked, if only in passing, of some of the struggles she faced in the military jail, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she was frequently held in solitary confinement and battled to secure treatment for gender transition. She said she tried to kill herself twice behind bars and fought for the hormone treatments she said now kept her alive.
Referring to the motivation behind her actions in leaking the information, she said: “We’re getting all this information from all these different sources and it’s just death, destruction, mayhem.
“We’re filtering it all through facts, statistics, reports, dates, times, locations, and eventually, you just stop. I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people.”
Ms Manning said she leaked the documents because she wanted to spark public debate and did not believe she had threatened national security.
“I work with this information every day,” she said. “I’m the subject matter expert for this stuff. You know, we’re the ones who work with it the most. We’re the most familiar with it. It’s not, you know, it’s not a general who writes this stuff.”
Days after Ms Manning was sentenced, she declared her intention to be called Chelsea. The military would not provide her with any treatment for her gender dysphoria, which she claimed resulted in her escalating distress.
Her ACLU lawyer, Chase Strangio, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in September 2014. According to Mr Strangio, Ms Manning became “the first military prisoner to receive healthcare related to gender transition and was part of a shift in practice that lead to the elimination of the ban on open trans service in the military”.
Ms Manning said she fought for hormone treatment as “it’s literally what keeps me alive”.
“It keeps me from feeling like I’m in the wrong body,” she added. “I used to get these horrible feeling like I just wanted to rip my body apart and I don't want to have to go through that experience again. It’s really, really awful.”
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