Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to thirty-five years in military prison for releasing United States government information to WikiLeaks, issued a statement highlighting what she called a “substantial disconnect” among those who support what she did. Specifically, it related to an award, the 2013 Sean MacBride Peace Award, which retired Col. Ann Wright, a prominent Manning supporter, accepted on her behalf.
The letter sent on October 7 to The Guardian, “I had absolutely no idea I received this award, let alone accepted it. In fact, I first found out about the award when I began receiving mail containing quotes from Ms. Wright’s acceptance speech.” But it appears Manning misunderstood what had happened, as a blog post from her lawyer, David Coombs indicates.
Manning did know in July that she would be receiving the award and Wright would be accepting it:
I had a phone call with Chelsea this morning. We discussed the letter that she sent to the Guardian. I reminded her that we spoke about the Sean MacBride Peace Award on three separate occasions: once when she received the award; once prior to Col. Wright accepting the award on her behalf; and once when the award was delivered into my physical possession and I informed her that the medal was made out of disarmed and recycled nuclear weapons systems. After being reminded of these conversations, Chelsea indicated that she did, in fact, remember the award and our discussions about it. She told me that she got confused when she recently received mail about the award, and assumed that people were writing to her about a new award. Chelsea told me that she has been feeling isolated and out of touch with the outside world during the indoctrination period at the United States Disciplinary Barracks, which is what led to her confusion over this issue. Due to this confusion, Chelsea said she felt the need to write her letter. She told me that she is sorry if her letter caused any offense to the International Peace Bureau, Col. Wright, or her supporters.
In fact, Wright, who is on a speaking tour in South Korea, told The Guardian, “My intention was to reflect in an appropriate way Chelsea’s views drawn from her statement to court and her previous comments. I deeply apologize to her.”
Wright has engaged in tireless activism on her behalf so, hopefully, they exchange some letters. It would be unfortunate if there was any fallout between Manning and Wright.
The feeling of isolation is understandable and probably not unusual. While it probably would have been better for Manning to inform her lawyer that she was going to send a statement, it does show that Manning will continue to be willing to speak out from Leavenworth prison if possible. And one section of her statement was actually pretty important:
It’s not clear to me that my actions were explicitly done for ‘peace.’ I don’t consider myself a ‘pacifist,’ ‘anti-war,’ or (especially) a ‘conscientious objector. Now—I accept that there may be ‘peaceful’ or ‘anti-war’ implications to my actions—but this is purely based on your subjective interpretation of the primary source documents released in 2010-2011. I believe that it is also perfectly reasonable to subjectively interpret these documents and come to the opposite opinion and say “hey, look at these documents, they clearly justify this war” (or diplomatic discussion, or detention of an individual). This is precisely the reason why I avoided overbroad and unnecessary redactions on my end while providng (and attempting to provide) these documents to media organizations in early 2010. I’m a ‘transparency advocate.’ I feel that the public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.” [emphasis not added]
Coombs added in the posted clarification, “Chelsea has never claimed to be anti-war; indeed she joined the military to defend her country. However, she is a humanist and was motivated in her actions not only by her transparency beliefs, but also by deep concern for the value of human life.”
This is something peace activists may not like hearing, however, it is where she stands. Signs, speeches or writings presenting her as an antiwar or peace hero have been misrepresentative of her whistleblowing act.
That she has the humility to publicly state she may not be the kind of person they wish to honor and may not deserve the award is actually righteous. In her position, one would think any award would make it easier to deal with imprisonment yet she wants to be recognized for what she did for government transparency, not peace.
Coombs addressed the fact that Manning said all “official statements” will come from her from this point onward and that she will be addressed as “Ms.” and not “Private.”
“I discussed with Chelsea the logistical difficulties of her decision given that it is often necessary to respond to an issue in a timely manner. Chelsea understood my concern and is reconsidering her position on this issue,” Coombs wrote. “For now, I will continue to provide updates and statements by Chelsea on the issues that impact her and her confinement conditions. After having additional time to determine the best process going forward, Chelsea may choose to release an additional signed statement concerning this topic.”
“Although Chelsea feels she no longer has any military rank, and would prefer being addressed as ‘Ms.’within any correspondence, she understands that the exterior of any letter will need to be addressed to Bradley E. Manning. She also understands and supports the continued use of her military rank by the Private Manning Support Network,” Coombs also explained.
The statement Manning sent to The Guardian mentioned “there’s little room in our scheduled time,” when he meets with Coombs, “for discussion of anything not focused on the authentication of court-martial documents and transcripts or my ongoing request for a Gender Dysphoria treatment plan that follows recognized medical standards.”
Manning faces a struggle as the military has indicated it will deny her access to hormone therapy, which she herself is willing to pay for. As Coombs told the Associated Press in August, she does not want sexual reassignment surgery at this point but would like to be able to get hormone therapy, which would help her feel more comfortable in her own skin.
It must be stressful to know this will be an uphill battle and it will not be easy to get the treatment she deserves as she is trying to complete the transition from being a man to being a woman.