This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Chelsea Manning was an all-American patriot when she joined the US military in 2007 at the height of the surge in Iraq.
But when she saw what her country was actually doing abroad—handing over thousands of Iraqi Sunnis to be tortured by state-sponsored Shiite death squads, for instance—she decided she couldn’t be a part of it. Nor could she just do nothing as injustices were committed in her and every American’s name.
So, using the access available to her as an Army intelligence analyst, she downloaded gigabytes of classified evidence that war crimes were being committed onto CDs “labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga,’” as she told a federal informant.
In 2013, a military court sentenced Manning to 35 years behind bars for leaking that evidence, including thousands upon thousands of diplomatic cables, to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. The guilty verdict came after Manning was subjected to 11 months of what the UN special rapporteur on torture called “cruel and inhuman” solitary confinement.
If she serves her full sentence, Manning, now 27, will be 60 years old when released, though she will reportedly become eligible for parole in 2020. But supporters want her out now—and believe that the way she was treated before she went to trial could be the key.
“We have to appeal this on Chelsea’s behalf,” said criminal defense attorney Nancy Hollander, one of a team of lawyers looking to do just that. Hollander was speaking as part of a recent panel discussion on the Obama administration’s war on leaks. This war, like others declared on nouns, has tended to hurt the least deserving: in this case, conscience-driven whistleblowers like Manning, but not any of those chatty “senior administration officials” who casually leak inside information to the press.
Such is the difference between releasing classified information that informs the public but bothers the national security state, as Manning did, and leaking what often proves to be disinformation that flatters those in power, as their lackeys do.