Chelsea Manning 5: Her Early Life, Part Three

Chelsea’s mother, Sue, had been born and brought up in Wales, in the UK. After her divorce, in late 2001, she went home, to the small city of Haverfordwest. Chelsea, who was thirteen then, went with her. They rented a three-bedroom apartment there, near Sue’s family’s home. (1, 22)

Chelsea enrolled in a secondary school — Tasker Milward. She was teased because of her accent and because she was so small. Sometimes she was bullied by classmates who who enjoyed making her lose her temper and then screaming at them. Once, when she was on a school camping trip, the other campers played a trick on her by getting up very early and sneaking off. When Chelsea woke up and came out of her tent, she realized she was all alone.(1, 22) But despite these painful experiences, her life in Wales seems to have been in many ways similar to her life in Crescent. Certainly, she found opportunities there to put her computer skills to use.And she impressed classmates who shared her interests with her knowledge of “languages” like html and php.

Working with other members of the computer club, Chelsea developed two projects that suggest she had real talent and imagination. One of these was a social networking software, a sort of crude, early version of FaceBook, and the other was a platform for uploading and selling music that in some ways resembled the later iTunes store. (1, 21)

Chelsea had been living in Wales for three years when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. She still had strong opinions about American foreign policy, and she still expressed them freely. But her ideas had changed since leaving the US. Instead of defending her country’s right to impose itself militarily in other parts of the world, she had become critical and skeptical. Discussing the American attack with her school friends in Wales, she said it was not true, as the American and British governments were saying, that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president had “weapons of mass destruction” in his possession — and intended to use them. According to Chelsea, this was only a pretext for the invasion. The real reason, she said, was that the Americans and the British wanted to take control of Iraq’s oil — and, in addition, the American president, George W. Bush wanted revenge for the 1993 Iraqi assassination plot against his father, former President George H. W. Bush. (1, 22) (4)

In Wales as in Oklahoma, Chelsea made friends. One of them, James Kirkpatrick, who was interviewed after Chelsea had been arrested said,

He stuck American at a Welsh school is always going to stick out, isn’t he? And his personality is unique, extremely unique. Very quirky, very opinionated, very political, very clever, very articulate. He never told me he was gay — I don’t think he told anyone. There was one boy in our year who everyone knew was gay, and he got absolutely tormented for it. I think Bradley must have seen that and thought, no thanks. (2)

And one of Chelsea’s biographers, Nick Denver, mentions that while she sometimes flirted with boys at Tasker Milward she also sometimes boasted about stealing their girlfriends — as if to create the impression that the flirting was only a joke. (3)

There is another little story — in an article by Ed Caesar — about Chelsea’s time in Haverfordwest which shows that despite all the discomfort and confusion she must have felt during her years in Wales, there were moments when she could leave it all behind and behave as if she were just an ordinary teenager.

Another classmate, Laura Watts, remembers a “really, really quiet boy” but one who was prone to flashes of exhibitionism. In Manning’s final year at the school, aged 17, the sixth-formers organized a charity Christmas show, dressed up and did silly acts. Manning performed a striptease on stage in front of the whole school. “He got down to his boxers,” says Watts. “It was really funny.” (2)

Chelsea graduated from Tasker Milward in 2005, At the end of that final year, she could have taken her “A-levels,” a set of examinations which, if she had done well, would have entitled her to enter a British university — but she decided not to do so. Instead, she phoned her father and asked for help in returning to the US. At least part of her reason for doing this, it seems, was the difficulty she was having in taking care of her mother. Sue was still drinking a great deal and, on top of that she had recently had two minor strokes. Chelsea’s father, Brian, was ill himself by that point, with cancer, but nevertheless he agreed to take Chelsea in and help her start a new life in Oklahoma. (1, 23)

Before she could go back to the US, Chelsea had to go to London to have her American passport renewed. She stayed overnight in a hostel. In the morning of July 7 she was just entering the King’s Cross subway station when she heard an explosion. Later she described the experience: “There was a horrific boom, screaming, sirens, and thick black smoke.” What Chelsea heard was one of the three bombs set off, within fifty seconds of each other, in three subway trains. About an hour later a fourth bomb exploded inside a crowded London bus. The bombings were the work of four Islamist suicide bombers all of whom died in the attacks along with fifty-two members of the public. In a tape made before the bombings one of the bombers explained that he and the others were taking revenge against Western countries whose “democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all ov er the world.” (9)