It’s hardly surprising that Chelsea Manning would want, and even need, to exit prison and return to life on the outside quietly.
After the former Army intelligence analyst is released from military prison at Fort Leavenworth on Wednesday, “for her security and for privacy reasons,” said a lawyer on her team, Nancy Hollander, “there’s going to be nothing.”
No public events or statements and no word on where she’s going.
She would probably be in real danger otherwise, so that certainly seems like the right call.
But we do wonder if it has occurred to her that those whose lives she may well have put at risk wanted privacy, too, and didn’t get it.
Four years ago, Manning was convicted of releasing some 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks.
What she revealed was important and highly disturbing, including a video that showed members of an American helicopter crew laughing while they launched a 2007 airstrike in Iraq that killed civilians. (“Hahaha, I hit ’em,” one says, after wounding men who appear to have been unarmed. “Yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says another.)
Ever since, Americans have debated whether she bravely exposed the extent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq or recklessly put our soldiers and allies in harm’s way.
In all likelihood, both are true.
She is a real whistleblower, and she performed a real public service in revealing that reports of abuse, torture, rape and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers had been ignored and that U.S. Marines had killed 19 unarmed civilians and wounded 50 others outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2007.
Still, she also did real harm to real people who must see a bitter irony in her plea for privacy.
A U.S. Army statement said no other information about her release would be forthcoming “to ensure the privacy and security of Inmate Manning.”
Her lawyers have said she has already served more time in prison than any other whistleblower in the country, and we understand President Barack Obama’s commutation of her original 35-year court martial sentence.
Just before leaving office, he abbreviated her sentence to seven years from Manning’s arrest on May 17, 2010.
A transgender woman, she was convicted as Bradley Manning, and while in prison attempted suicide and successfully sued the Defense Department for refusing to treat her gender dysphoria with surgery.
But that has nothing to do with her original conviction. Or with our conviction that she’s neither an unalloyed hero nor a criminal undeserving of mercy.