Chelsea Manning exited the walls of Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas this morning.
In a statement provided to ABC News exclusively, Manning declared, “I appreciate the wonderful support that I have received from so many people across the world over these past years. As I rebuild my life, I remind myself not to relive the past.”
“The past will always affect me and I will keep that in mind while remembering that how it played out is only my starting point, not my final destination,” Manning added.
The United States Army whistleblower’s release marks the culmination of a major victory for a grassroots effort led by committed activists. Over the course of nearly seven years, human rights campaigners and prominent individuals pushed for Manning to be released from prison.
Manning will remain enlisted in the military because she filed an appeal after her trial.
“Chelsea’s release today is a tremendous victory after a long, hard-fought battle,” Manning’s attorney, Nancy Hollander, declared. “We are overjoyed at her release from prison.But the battle continues: her legal appeal remains an incredibly important effort to challenge her unfair trial.”
Hollander continued, “Chelsea should never have been charged with violations of the Espionage Act, or held in solitary confinement for almost one year, under conditions tantamount to torture. Please continue to support her as we fight in her appeal to clear her name.”
The Courage Campaign is raising funds to support a robust appeal.
“There’s no chance of President [Donald] Trump reforming the draconian Espionage Act that was used against Chelsea and other whistleblowers. But it’s a near certainty that we’ll see more leak prosecutions, and soon,” Nathan Fuller of the Courage Campaign stated. “Chelsea’s appeal is our only
hope of challenging this bad law and improving the situation for the whistleblowers Trump will prosecute in the future. It’s also our best chance of enabling Edward Snowden to come home.”
Manning was sentenced to military prison for 35 years. She was convicted of offenses stemming from her decision to provide WikiLeaks with over a half million U.S. government documents, which exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable acts by U.S. officials.
As Manning’s attorneys previously pointed out, she received the same sentence as a “service member who wished to sell classified information for money.” She received a much harsher sentence than General David Petraeus, who pled guilty to disclosing classified information to a former mistress and biographer. Petraeus also lied to the FBI when he was questioned about his crime.
“In the pantheon of cases involving disclosures motivated by whistleblowing, Pfc. Manning’s is far and away the most severe sentence ever adjudged. In the last five years alone, federal prosecutors have prosecuted more whistleblowers than at any time,” her attorneys argued.
Manning took responsibility for her actions. She did not have to describe to the public in a military court why she released the “Collateral Murder” video, military incident reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables, and files on Guantanamo Bay detainees. However, she apparently felt she owed it not only to herself but to the public as well.
In the final hours before her release, a benefit music album to raise funds for her living expenses after her imprisonment was posted to Bandcamp. Artists ranging from Tom Morello to Downtown Boys to Graham Nash to Kimya Dawson to Talib Kweli contributed tracks to the compilation.
She now gets a first chance to live life outside of prison as Chelsea Manning.