Chelsea Manning rejects 'anti-war pacifist' label

WikiLeaks source Manning’s first statement since sentencing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 4:35pm

Chelsea Manning, the WikiLeaks source formerly known as Bradley Manning, has expressed intense unhappiness at the public profile that is being presented about her, warning that a false impression is being given to the outside world that she is an anti-war pacifist and conscientious objector.

In a statement issued to the Guardian, Manning insists that she did not leak hundreds of thousands of US classified documents to WikiLeaks because she was explicitly motivated by pacifism. Rather, she sees herself as a “transparency advocate” who is convinced that the American people need to be better informed.

“It’s not terribly clear to me that my actions were explicitly done for ‘peace’... I feel that the public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.”

In her first public comments since she was sentenced in August to 35 years in military custody for leaking the largest quantity of US state secrets in history, Manning writes that she is increasingly concerned about what she calls a “substantial disconnect” between her experiences at the US military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is being held, and the messages that are being put out to the rest of the world without her knowledge or approval. “I was shocked and frustrated about what’s occurred here,” she writes.

I feel that the public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects
Chelsea Manning

Manning’s concerns relate to the this year Sean MacBride peace award which was granted to the former army private last month by the International Peace Bureau in recognition of her “outstanding work for peace” in “revealing information about US war crimes”. The award was accepted on Manning’s behalf by Ann Wright, a retired US army colonel who is a prominent peace activist and opponent of the Iraq war.

Manning says she had no idea she had been given the award, let alone accepted it. The first she heard about it was when people wrote to her in prison quoting from Wright’s acceptance speech.

In that speech, Wright suggested that Manning was “overwhelmed” that the Sean MacBride award had recognised “her actions as actions for peace.” Yet the former soldier insists that she has never perceived her actions in transmitting more than 700,000 classified US classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010-11 as an act for peace.

“I don’t consider myself a ‘pacifist,’ ‘anti-war,’ or (especially) a ‘conscientious objector’,” she writes. “Now - I accept that there may be ‘peaceful’ or ‘anti-war’ implications to my actions - but this is purely based on your [Wright’s] subjective interpretation of the primary source documents released in 2010-11.”

Manning goes on to state that the material contained in the WikiLeaks trove could be used to support the opposite conclusions. “I believe it is also perfectly reasonable to subjectively interpret these documents and come to the opposite opinion and say ‘hey, look at these documents, they clearly justify this war’ (or diplomatic discussion, or detention of an individual).”

Manning is expected to spend at least eight years in military prison for her role as the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures. She writes that since the end of the trial in August she has been “trying to decompress and focus on other things after a lengthy and exhausting court-martial process”.

Those other interests includes her request to have treatment for gender dysphoria, which she announced through her lawyer David Coombs at the end of the trial.

Wright, speaking from South Korea where she is on a speaking tour, said she was distressed that Manning felt her beliefs had been inaccurately portrayed in the acceptance speech. “My intention was to reflect in an appropriate way Chelsea’s views drawn from her statement to court and her previous comments. I deeply apologise to her.”

Coombs said that he had informed Manning about the Sean MacBride prize when the award was announced in July, and had also passed on information that Wright would be accepting the honour on the soldier’s behalf. The lawyer posted a note on the award on his personal blog on 22 July.

“As she is going through indoctrination in the prison system, Chelsea hasn’t been receiving much information from the outside. It is possible she is confusing this award with another event,” he said.

Manning opens her statement in the name of Bradley Manning - a legal requirement insisted upon by the military prison hierarchy. She ends it with the sign off Chelsea Manning, and thanks “everyone who has avoided misgendering me and switched to using my new name and feminine pronouns”.

She also makes clear that in the light of her sentence she no longer expects to be referred to by military rank such as Specialist, Private first class, or Private. Instead, she asks to be called ‘Ms’ or with no honorific at all.