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Excerpt: "In an ideal world, governments, corporations, and other large institutions would be transparent by default. Unfortunately, the world is not ideal. Many institutions begin a slow creep toward being opaque and we need people who recognize that.'

US Army private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking classified government material to the website WikiLeaks. (photo: Juan Osborne/Amnesty International)
US Army private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking classified government material to the website WikiLeaks. (photo: Juan Osborne/Amnesty International)

Why Speaking Out Is Worth the Risk

By Amnesty International

16 December 14


helsea Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence for leaking classified US government documents to the website WikiLeaks. From her prison cell in Kansas, Chelsea tells us why speaking out against injustice can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Why did you decide to leak documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

These documents were important because they relate to two connected counter-insurgency conflicts in real-time from the ground. Humanity has never had this complete and detailed a record of what modern warfare actually looks like. Once you realize that the co-ordinates represent a real place where people live; that the dates happened in our recent history; that the numbers are actually human lives – with all the love, hope, dreams, hatred, fear, and nightmares that come with them – then it’s difficult to ever forget how important these documents are.

What did you think the consequences might be for you personally?

In 2010, I was a lot younger. The consequences felt very vague. I expected the worst possible outcome, but I didn’t have a strong sense of what that might entail. But I expected to be demonized and have every moment of my life examined and analyzed for every single possible screw-up that I’ve ever made - every flaw and blemish - and to have them used against me in the court of public opinion. I was especially afraid that my gender identity would be used against me.

What was it like to feel the full force of the US justice system and be presented as a traitor?

It was particularly interesting to see the logistics involved in the prosecution: the stacks of money spent; the gallons of fuel burned; the reams of paper printed; the lengthy rolls of security personnel, lawyers, and experts – it felt silly at times. It felt especially silly being presented as a traitor by the officers who prosecuted my case. I saw them out of court for at least 100 days before and during the trial and developed a very good sense of who they were as people. I’m fairly certain that they got a good sense of who I am as a person too. I remain convinced that even the advocates that presented the treason arguments did not believe their own words as they spoke them.

Many people think of you as a whistleblower. Why are whistleblowers important?

In an ideal world, governments, corporations, and other large institutions would be transparent by default. Unfortunately, the world is not ideal. Many institutions begin a slow creep toward being opaque and we need people who recognize that. I think the term “whistleblowers” has an overwhelmingly negative connotation in government and business, akin to a “tattle-tale” or “snitch”. This needs to be addressed somehow. Very often policies that supposedly protect such people are actually used to discredit them.

What would you say to somebody who is afraid to speak out against injustice?

First, I would point out that life is precious. In Iraq in 2009-10, life felt very cheap. It became overwhelming to see the sheer number of people suffering and dying, and the learned indifference to it by everybody around me, including the Iraqis themselves. That really changed my perspective on my life, and made me realize that speaking out about injustices is worth the risk. Second, in your life, you are rarely given the chance to really make a difference. Every now and then you do come across a significant choice. Do you really want to find yourself asking whether you could have done more, 10-20 years later? These are the kinds of questions I didn’t want to haunt me.

Why did you choose this particular artwork to represent you?

It’s the closest representation of what I might look like if I was allowed to present and express myself the way I see fit. Even after I came out as a trans woman in 2013, I have not been able to express myself as a woman in public. So I worked with Alicia Neal, an artist in California, to sketch a realistic portrait that more accurately represents who I am. Unfortunately, with the current rules at military confinement facilities, it is very unlikely that I will have any photos taken until I am released – which, parole and clemency notwithstanding, might not be for another two decades. your social media marketing partner


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+57 # tedrey 2014-12-16 10:57
I'm glad to see an accurate face of a brave and caring person that the government has tried to make faceless.

What word can we suggest to replace whistleblower"? Bell-ringer? Unveiler? Lie-alarm?
+3 # grandma lynn 2014-12-17 19:58
Chelsea is the best. The learned indifference to war's deaths she describes - even among Iraqi people themselves - shows her incredible powers of observation. She observes the legal teams rallied against her, too, in the court system. But she remains committed to this chance to make a difference. And she does. I believe Edward Snowden learned from Manning, too.
For myself, I needed to see the awful truth of the US military in a hovering helicopter shooting media people on the Iraqi street below, people not hiding or being furtive. Then the same helicopter crew with great excitement and bluster - and lying - wanted permission to shoot a civilian man (with school child in van) who stops to rescue the attacked civilians. They get the permission. If Manning didn't release this video, how would I ever know the crime being done in my / our name over there where I will likely never be? Thank you, Chelsea, for giving me / us the truth in more than this one instance. Thank you for your courage and honesty.
+59 # indian weaver 2014-12-16 11:22
The heart and soul of We The People has spoken and acted. Courage is Manning's to define and manifest.
+32 # reiverpacific 2014-12-16 12:18
At Art College in Scotland, inspired by a lesbian aunt who was more like an elder sister and taught me that we almost all have components of the opposite sex in our makeup and this should be honored, I took it upon myself as a creative and visionary exercise to complete a set of drawn, a couple of painted portraits and a few full-body sketches of some friends and fellow students (even one rugby colleague) in their female manifestations, given their facial structures.
I did a self-portrait as a woman and got quite a charge out of it. Strangely, I could only get three females to take part in viewing their male selves.
I find that Ms Manning's willingness to portray her true identity with a willing artist, an affirmation that she is after the deep truth in all things, beginning with herself, as the military seems to have done their best over her former years in confinement as Bradley, to humiliate and de-humanize him/her.
Individuals with this deep measure of courage don't come along very often -it seems to me to even have a spiritual component in her case- almost akin to the American Indian Warrior's valor in hurling insults and abuse at their enemies when cornered and yes-tortured.
She should be held up as a true warrior and patriot but the US hasn't even come close to attaining the civilized status, or even a small fraction of humility, to recognized this (Not many nations have in fact).
"Patriotism" is one of the most abused term in the English lingo!
+32 # Bruce-Man-Do 2014-12-16 13:06
Chelsea makes me ashamed of how little I've done to fight the tyranny of "our" government! I hope we keep her in our hearts and her brave and incredibly compassionate words in our minds, since it is unlikely any president in the foreseeable future will have the vision or courage to defy the National Security State we have become and pardon Manning.
+3 # grandma lynn 2014-12-17 20:02
We must all flood this president and if need be the next with reasoned requests / demands for Chelsea Manning's pardon.

She did her part; now we must do ours.

President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Use postcards. They aren't letters set aside unopened for the anthrax test. They can be read by anyone and everyone along the way.

Our holiday present to Chelsea....

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