Chelsea Manning's controversial journey to freedom
While dealing with gender dysphoria, Manning sparked a political firestorm just 3 years after enlisting
Chelsea Manning, now freed from a military prison, has impacted the U.S. military like few others in modern times.
Unknown just over seven years ago, the low-level army analyst — who was first widely known as Pte. Bradley Manning — unleashed a torrent of 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks.
Convicted by a military court, she has been characterized as a vital whistleblower by some — and as a traitor by others.
Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Manning in a lawsuit, has written on the eve of her release that the 29-year-old "will walk into a different world than the one she left behind when she was arrested in 2010. And she will walk as a different person than she was seven years ago."
Changes since her imprisonment include the lifting of a long-standing ban against transgender men and women serving openly in the military, and WikiLeaks now being firmly established as part of the American political landscape after its activist role in the U.S. presidential election.
Here are some key dates in the Manning saga:
Dec. 17, 1987: Bradley Edward Manning is born in Oklahoma City, the younger of two kids to an American IT professional and a British-born mother.
1987-2001: Manning is said to be a quiet child with gifted computer skills. Soon before moving to Wales with his mother following his parents' divorce, a friend says he confides he is gay.
2005-06: Manning returns to Oklahoma from Wales, but struggles to hold employment and is said to clash with his father and stepmother, culminating in a 911 call from the home in March 2006. It is alleged he threatens them while brandishing a knife. No charges are filed.
2007-09: Manning enlists in the U.S. army. Standing just five-foot-three, Manning at times struggles physically and emotionally with the rigours of basic training, but completes intelligence-analyst training and receives top-secret clearance.
October 2009: Manning is deployed to Iraq.
January 2010: Manning begins to compile classified files from a defence department intranet. The information is copied to a CD labelled Lady Gaga and then transferred to an SD card housed in a camera he takes back to the U.S. while on leave.
After cursory attempts to interest the Washington Post and New York Times, Manning decides to send the files to WikiLeaks, uploading them in February through a broadband connection at a Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Manning later tells a judge that she felt the public had the right to know the information, to spark a debate on U.S. military and foreign policy. Three years later, she says her conscience is clear and she didn't believe the information would damage U.S. national security.
April-May 2010: Manning emails a superior, admitting to gender confusion that is "not going away" and including an attachment of the now-famous picture showing Manning in a blond wig and makeup.
"I don't know what to do anymore, and the only 'help' that seems to be available is severe punishment and/or getting rid of me," Manning writes.
Two weeks later, Manning strikes a female soldier, leading to discipline and intensive sessions with a therapist. He is diagnosed as having gender dysphoria.
May 20-26, 2010: Manning meets a convicted hacker online and, through a series of chats on AOL Instant Messenger using encryption software, reveals that he has leaked information regarding detainees and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The leak includes video of a deadly 2007 Baghdad helicopter attack posted on WikiLeaks in April, in which civilians and journalists were killed.
"He was just grabbing information from where he could get it and trying to leak it," Adrian Lamo, who contacted authorities, would later tell The New York Times of their exchanges.
June 7, 2010: It is publicly announced that Pte. Bradley Manning, of the Second Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in Baghdad, was arrested in May on suspicion of releasing classified information.
March 2, 2011: Previous charges are revised and upgraded, leading to a total of 22 counts, including charges involving the Espionage Act and of aiding the enemy. Manning faces the prospect of life in prison.
Feb. 28, 2013: Manning offers the first detailed explanation of his actions while offering to plead guilty to 10 of the 22 charges of misusing classified information.
"The most alarming aspect of the [helicopter] video to me was the seemingly delightful blood lust the aerial weapons team happened to have," he says.
June 3 - July 30, 2013: During his military trial at Fort Meade, Md., the prosecution brands Manning an anarchist whose leaked files ended up in the hands of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's communications arm, saying the collaboration with WikiLeaks was earlier and much less passive than the defence claims. The defence portrays Manning as a naive and confused person who gave ample signs to superiors through behavioural issues and incidents that top-secret access should have been revoked.
Manning is acquitted of aiding the enemy but convicted of 20 counts, including six involving the Espionage Act.
Aug. 22, 2013: Manning receives a 35-year sentence. With time already served in detention, Manning is eligible for parole in just over seven years.
Aug. 23, 2013: In a statement first aired on NBC News, Manning requests to be referred to by a new name, reflecting her transgender identity.
"I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female," she writes, adding, "given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."
April 2014: A judge in Kansas approves her legal name change to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.
September 2014: Manning files a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defence in Federal Court, claiming she's been denied access to "medically necessary treatment" such as hormone therapy in her transition. Long held in solitary confinement, the suit claims she is at risk for self-castration and suicide.
March 2016: Through a freedom-of-information request from prison, Manning and her legal team learn of "insider threat" guidelines that were specifically created in the wake of her actions.
While the document stresses that not all leakers have "malicious intent," it states that unwitting insiders could find themselves used or compromised by U.S. enemies. Critics say the warning signs outlined in the guidelines are broad and unhelpful, and that it smacks of the tactics used to weed out Communists in the 1950s.
September-November 2016: Manning's lawyers confirm reports she attempted suicide while being imprisoned in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She goes on a brief hunger strike over delayed treatment for her gender dysphoria.
January 2017: The White House announces that Manning will have her sentence commuted.
"I feel very comfortable that justice has been served," outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama says, pointing out Manning's sentence was "disproportionate" compared to others convicted of leaks.
With a May release, she will have served nearly seven years.
Two more days until the freedom of civilian life ^_^ Now hunting for private <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/healthcare?src=hash">#healthcare</a> like millions of Americans =P—@xychelsea
Obama emphasizes it is not a pardon, but that hardly appeases critics. Republican Senator and decorated war hero John McCain calls it a "grave mistake" that "devalues the courage of real whistleblowers."
Weeks later, the ACLU's Strangio says the commutation was "life-saving" for Manning.
Manning indicated in January she planned to live in the Maryland area upon her release. A week before her being freed, she expressed optimism for her future and thanked supporters, saying her "spirits were lifted in dark times" by letters she received from veterans and young trans people, among others.
A U.S. Army spokesperson told USA Today that Manning will not receive pay, but is "statutorily entitled to medical care while on excess leave in an active-duty status" pending an appeal of the court-martial conviction.
WikiLeaks sets up a bitcoin fund to help Manning in her future endeavours.
Manning release in < 24h. We've set up a Welcome Home Manning (and to bitcoin!) fund. Surprise her! <br><br>12ZS6xdKTgaoTfEUei45XBdKumiE8VVjW6 <a href="https://t.co/EsQDRCRKgd">pic.twitter.com/EsQDRCRKgd</a>—@wikileaks
With files from The Associated Press and Reuters