FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning is a U.S. Army soldier and intelligence analyst who was arrested in Iraq on March 27, 2010 for disclosing classified information to Wikileaks. She underwent a court martial at Ft. Meade, Maryland, was found guilty of several offenses, including 6 violations of the espionage act and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Manning admitted to disclosing 750,000 documents to Wikileaks. These documents included war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, various diplomatic cables and the “Collateral Murder” video which showed a U.S. Army helicopter firing on and killing unarmed civilians and two Reuters journalists in Iraq.
As an intelligence analyst Manning had routine access to troves of documents – much more than she disclosed. The security at the sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) where Manning worked was quite relaxed and she was able to use her routine access to this information to create CD backups of the documents and take them with her.
In January 2010, Manning returned to Maryland. Manning analyzed the data and decided it could bring about debate “on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general’ and cause “society to reevaluate the need to engage in counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations that ignored the dynamic of people living in the environment every day.”
She contacted the the Washington Post and the New York Times to try to give them the documents and was ignored. She tried to connect with someone at POLITICO but was unsuccessful. She ultimately decided to submit to WikiLeaks through the online submission system.
During a pretrial hearing on February 28, 2013 Manning testified to the motivation behind her disclosures. She explained that she had become deeply troubled by the reality of our asymmetric warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the cover-up of horrific battlefield crimes and felt similar events could only be prevented by vigorous public debate. Audio of Manning’s testimony was leaked and posted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
One of the most pervasive myths of the Manning case is that she “indiscriminately dumped” the documents to Wikileaks. While Manning did not read every word, her intimate knowledge and regular work with these types of documents allowed her to perform a detailed assessment of them before disclosing them. In her testimony, Manning explains precisely how she assessed each set of documents to determine their risk of harming national security if published. Manning specifically addressed the two largest disclosures she made: the war logs and the diplomatic cables.
The war logs were a collection of SigActs or records of Significant Activities. According to Manning:
“…the information contained within a single SigAct or group of SigActs is not very sensitive. The events encapsulated within most SigActs involve either enemy engagements or causalities. Most of this information is publicly reported by the public affairs office or PAO, embedded media pools, or host nation (HN) media.’
Although SigAct reporting is sensitive at the time of their creation, their sensitivity normally dissipates within 48 to 72 hours as the information is either publicly released or the unit involved is no longer in the area and not in danger.”
In regards to the diplomatic cables, this is how Manning describes her assessment:
“I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy. Given all of the Department of State information that I read, the fact that most of the cables were unclassified, and that all the cables have a SIPDIS caption [denotes a cable is appropriate for widely sharing within an interagency audience], I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States.”
In addition, Wikileaks wrote the State Department and the Department of Defense offering to allow them to propose redactions to protect any individuals from harm before publication and both departments refused.
Despite having access and clearance for top secret information, none of the documents Manning disclosed reached that level of classification. All of the documents were classified as secret and below. Many of the documents were actually unclassified. Additionally, the government and the president himself has admitted that over-classification is a major problem in the national security community.
In May of 2010, Manning reached out to hacker Adrian Lamo over instant messenger. Over the course of their conversations, Manning began to confide in Lamo, both about her personal struggles and the troubling information she had access to in secret US military databases. Lamo told Manning, “I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.” During days of conversation Manning entrusted Lamo with information about her disclosures. Lamo subsequently turned Manning in to the FBI, which eventually led to her arrest.
Manning’s lengthy detention and the delays in her trial have been accurately described as Kafkaesque. After her arrest, Manning was confined in Kuwait, where she was placed on suicide watch. She was then transported to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia where she was imprisoned as a maximum custody detainee with a Prevention of Injury status – a decision that was in conflict with the recommendations of brig psychiatrists. A special rapporteur for the United Nations classified Manning’s detention at Quantico as torture.
While there, Manning was kept in 6×8 cell by herself for 23 hours a day. When she was permitted movement, Manning was shackled at all times. Frustrated with with her POI status, Manning expressed to a superior officer, Master Sergeant Brian Papakie, that if she really wanted to commit suicide, she could use the waistband of her underwear. The Brig used this statement to justify taking Manning’s underwear away from her and keeping her in a status where she slept naked with two coarse and stiff suicide blankets for the rest of the nights that she was at the prison.
The uproar over Manning’s treatment eventually resulted in her being transferred to a medium-security facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In April of 2011, Manning was finally declared competent to stand trial. Nevertheless, her pre-trial Article 32 hearing didn’t begin until December 16, 2011. That hearing resulted in Lt. Col. Paul Almanza recommending Manning face a court martial for 22 charges. Her actual trial did not begin until June 3, 2013 – 1,100+ days after he was arrested.
Manning faced one count of aiding the enemy, five counts of theft of public property or records, two counts of computer fraud, eight counts of transmitting defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, and one count of wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy. The ‘aiding the enemy’ charge was a capital offense – punishable by the death penalty. The government has said they wouldn’t seek execution, but more likely life in prison. Pursuing this charge in this situation was unprecedented.
The government claimed that by giving the classified documents to Wikileaks for internet publication, Manning aided the enemy – in this case al-Qaeda and affiliated groups – because those groups would have access to the documents. This is an unprecedented and extremely radical theory. If Manning had been convicted, the government could have argued in the future that any whistleblowers who disclose classified information to news publications are guilty of aiding the enemy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has continued to try to link Manning to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, even empanelling a secret grand jury in Alexandria, VA to attempt to build a case against Assange – furthering the theory that the government intends to not only prosecute whistleblowers, but possibly publishers as well.
12. What did she plead in court?
Manning plead guilty to 10 lesser offenses, all of which are essentially admitting the unauthorized disclosure of certain materials. Specifically she plead guilty to unauthorized disclosure of the following: a combat engagement video of a helicopter gunship [Collateral Murder]; an Army intelligence agency memorandum [DoD report on WikiLeaks posing a threat]; certain records of the Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) Iraq database [Iraq War Logs]; certain records of the CIDNE Afghanistan database [Afghan War Logs]; certain files that belong to SOUTHCOM on Guantanamo detainees [“Gitmo Files”]; a number of State Department cables; a specific cable, Reykjavik 13, from Iceland; and another intelligence agency memo. She did not plead guilty to “aiding the enemy”; Espionage Act violations, federal larceny statute violations and violations to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
This is a common claim use by the state to discredit whistleblowers and maintain the moral high ground. Yet, there has still been no evidence put forward to demonstrate any harm done by Manning’s disclosures. Not a single casualty has resulted from the document release. In fact, the government has gone to great lengths to prevent the release of the damage assessments concerning Manning’s disclosures.
There has been no evidence ever presented to suggest that Manning had any contact with Wikileaks or Assange prior to her disclosures, and she testified that her decision to give the documents to Wikileaks was her’s alone. In fact, she only approached Wikileaks after trying to contact both the Washington Post and New York Times, both of which never responded to her requests.
The other major myth about the Manning case is that Manning’s disclosures were inconsequential. In fact, Manning pulled back the curtain on gross misconduct on the part of the government and the military. By disclosing the Collateral Murder video, Manning exposed a war crime – pure and simple. Some disclosures showed that the US military did not intervene to stop Iraqi authorities from torturing and killing prisoners, while others documented instances of U.S. soldiers killing Iraqi civilians. Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps this country’s most famous whistleblower, has consistently defended Manning’s actions, saying they are no different than his. Also, noted NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake has said there can be no argument that Manning is a whistleblower. Manning could have given these documents to foreign government for money. She could have none any number of illicit things with them – instead she made them public, because she felt the public deserved to hear the truth.
During an interview in 2011, President Obama stated flatly that Manning “broke the law.” Manning advocates have argued that such a statement constitutes undue command influence by the commander-in-chief.
This has been repeatedly advanced by the government and Manning’s detractors to undermine her stated motivation as a whistleblower. It was also used as the rationale to continually put Manning on suicide watch and prevention of injury status during her confinement. While Manning has said she struggled with gender identity issues, multiple psychiatric evaluations found that Manning was not unstable or a threat to herself – evaluations that were ignored. Following the conclusion of the court martial, Manning stated:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.
Despite this being an historic trial with far-reaching implications for U.S. foreign policy and civil liberties, it received scant coverage from the corporate media. Only a handful of independent reporters, including FDL’s own Kevin Gosztola have bothered to consistently cover the trial and attend the hearings at Ft. Meade – coverage that is entirely reader supported. The government has also gone to great lengths to conduct these proceedings as secretly as possible – refusing to issue transcripts and court records that are typically available for the media. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has brought a lawsuit (that includes FDL reported Kevin Gosztola) arguing the press should be given access to court records in this court martial.
Yes. On July 30, 2013 Manning was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy,” and not guilty of violating the Espionage Act by releasing the Garani video. SHh was found guilty of all other offenses including six violations of the Espionage Act. She potentially faced more than 130 years in prison.
Yes. Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. She will be credited for time served, for her pre-trial detention.
On a personal level, Manning’s treatment has been deplorable and should cause concern for any human rights advocate. Manning spent nearly three years in pretrial confinement, a portion of which was spent in torturous conditions – all because she disseminated information she believed Americans deserved to know and embarrassed the US government.
On a broader level, Manning’s case encompasses a number of critical issues regarding U.S. foreign policy, national security and civil liberties in the post 9/11 era in the United States.
Manning’s disclosures have already opened a dialogue on the War on Terror and U.S. diplomacy. Many have credited these releases with expediting U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and spurring many of the uprisings during the Arab spring. Furthermore, she has arguably encouraged others, like Edward Snowden, to come forward and expose government wrongdoing to the global public.
The outcome of this trial will have wide ranging repercussions that will dramatically affect the direction of this country in the 21st century. The conviction and punishment of Bradley Manning will have an effect on future whistleblowers and press freedom. In light of recent leaks regarding the abuses of the U.S. surveillance state, such concerns have taken on an even greater significance.