Chelsea Manning, Part 1: Her Trial and Conviction

In a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Maryland, on August 21, 2013, Chelsea Manning, an American soldier, was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. Three weeks earlier, on July 30, she had been found guilty of espionnage while serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Her crime was to have released on the internet more than 700,000 “classified” documents and videos; this was by far the biggest “leak” of secret information in American history.

This secret material had come to Chelsea’s attention in the course of her work. She made copies and passed them on to the Wikileaks website, where some were published. Much of the material concerned the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the American prison at Guantánamo. Some of the video material concerned American air attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in at least one of these cases unarmed civilians could be seen to have been killed.

In all, Chelsea was charged with twenty-two crimes. At an earlier trial, in February 2013, she had pleaded guilty to several of the charges. In the second trial, in August, she was convicted of all but one of the others. However, although she was convicted of many crimes and given a heavy sentence, Chelsea was acquitted on the most serious charge of all “aiding the enemy.” This charge was based on the contention that she had released the information, knowing that it would help Al Qaida, the Islamic fundamentalist group thought to be responsible for the destruction of World Trade Center in 2001. But the prosecution did not succeed in convincing the judge that Chelsea had wanted to help her country’s enemies — or even that she had inadvertently done so.

At her first, February, trial Chelsea had said that she regretted what she had doene and was sorry if she had “hurt” the United States. Throughout, she has insisted that she did what she did only because she felt it was her duty to expose wrongdoing.

The judge who sentenced Chelsea, Colonel Denise Lind, deducted 1,294 days from her sentence. Most of this time was in consideration of the time Chelsea had already spent in prison since being arrested in May, 2010. However, one hundred and twelve days were in consideration of the “excessively harsh treatment” to which she at been subjected while imprisoned at a military base in Virginia.

Chelsea’s sentence is by far the longest ever given to someone found guilty of leaking military information. Previously the most severe sentence had been two years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, although she is sentenced to thirty-five years, Chelsea could be free by as early as 2021. Military regulations allow for parole after a third of the sentence has been served and, on top of that, she could earn a reduction of 120 days per year for good behavior and job performance.