Washington (AFP): Chelsea Manning, the transgender American soldier whose prison sentence President Barack Obama commuted Tuesday, became a hero to anti-war activists and a villain to government officials outraged over her leaking of classified files.
Originally named Bradley, Manning was convicted in August 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison for espionage and other offenses after admitting to handing a massive trove of classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.
After sentencing, Manning announced that she identified as female and later obtained legal authorization to change her name and receive hormone therapy.
She remains, however, in an all-male military prison in Kansas, where she has been appealing her sentence.
Manning, 29, last year twice attempted suicide, and in September began a hunger strike to protest what she said was the military’s refusal to treat her gender dysphoria.
Five days later, she ended the protest after the US Army agreed to provide her with surgery.
That move followed a Pentagon decision to allow transgender troops to serve openly, and to pay for related medical treatment — including gender reassignment.
A native of Oklahoma who later moved to Wales, Manning reportedly was taunted by other children for being a “geek,” and as a youth in Britain endured ridicule from classmates for being a young gay man.
Manning’s father kicked Manning out of the house when he learned his child’s sexual orientation.
In 2007, Manning joined the Army and trained as an intelligence analyst, before deploying with the 10th Mountain Division to a base near Baghdad.
In Iraq, Manning was subject to the military’s ban on openly gay troops, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The law has since been repealed.
Friends and those who knew Manning growing up have described a youth who struggled to find acceptance, according to The New York Times, with Manning’s ambitions in the Army frustrated by being asked to perform menial tasks.
– Low-ranking analyst -In the Army, Manning was reportedly reprimanded for assaulting an officer, resulting in a demotion from specialist to private first class.
As a low-ranking intelligence analyst, Manning had access to a vast archive of sensitive documents on the military’s classified computer network, SIPRnet or the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.
In online conversations published in the magazine Wired with a former hacker, Adrian Lamo, Manning said “let’s just say ‘someone’ I know intimately well, has been penetrating US classified networks,” and transferring the data “to a crazy white-haired Aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long,” an apparent reference to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in a bid to avoid extradition to the United States.
Manning told Lamo the motive was to expose the “truth.”
“I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public,” Manning said, according to Lamo, who turned over the online chats to the authorities.
Manning was first detained in May 2010 for leaking US military files — including video of a helicopter gunship attack — and classified State Department cables.
Later, Manning admitted to downloading some 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic files and handing classified documents over to WikiLeaks.
Manning — who has been serving time in solitary confinement — is now eligible for release in May.
Assange last week said he would agree to be extradited to the United States if Obama granted clemency to Manning, jailed for leaking documents.
“Ms Manning is the longest serving whistleblower in the history of the United States. Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation,” Manning’s lawyers said in a statement.