- Chelsea ManningArmy whistleblower and transgender activist who spent seven years in military prison after leaking a trove of documents about the Iraq and Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010. She is now running for the U.S. Senate in Maryland.
On Tuesday, Democracy Now! interviewed Chelsea Manning in her first live TV interview. She was released from prison last May after serving seven years for leaking a trove of documents about Iraq and the Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning is now running for U.S. Senate in Maryland. In part two we talk more with Manning about her run for the U.S. Senate, trans rights and whistleblowing.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our exclusive conversation with Army whistleblower and transgender activist Chelsea Manning. On Tuesday, Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I spoke to Chelsea Manning in her first live TV interview. She was released from prison last May after serving seven years for leaking a trove of documents about Iraq and the Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning is now running for U.S. Senate in Maryland.
I began Part 2 of interview by playing a clip of John Bolton, who President Trump has named to be his next national security adviser. He was asked about Manning in the 2012 BBC film WikiLeaks: The Secret Life of a Superpower.
RICHARD BILTON: What do you think of Bradley Manning?
JOHN BOLTON: I think he committed treason. I think he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
RICHARD BILTON: What does that mean?
JOHN BOLTON: Well, treason is the only crime defined by our Constitution, and it says treason shall consist only of levying war against the United States or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. And he gave our enemies a lot of aid and comfort.
RICHARD BILTON: So what should happen to him?
JOHN BOLTON: Well, he should be prosecuted. And if he’s found guilty, he should be punished to the fullest extent possible.
RICHARD BILTON: And what is that?
JOHN BOLTON: Death.
RICHARD BILTON: You think he should be killed.
JOHN BOLTON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: That was John Bolton, the next national security adviser for President Trump, speaking in 2012. I asked Chelsea Manning if she felt threatened by his statement.
CHELSEA MANNING: I feel threatened, but as any other person should feel threatened. You know, are these positions surprising? No. You know, anybody who challenges these people, anybody who challenges their power, is a threat to them. And so, yeah, they’re going to go after people, and they’re going to say that everybody deserves the death penalty. I mean, it’s going to be this expanding, broadening net, you know. John Bolton, as U.N. ambassador, bolstered the neoconservative movement in building, you know, the—this was during the time of the CIA and expanding into torture. Like, they’re trying to cover themselves up, and they’re trying to protect themselves, and they’re trying to—of course they’re going to—they’re going to claim that anybody who challenges them is a traitor. Everybody who goes against them is against, you know, the state. And anybody who’s against them is worthy of, you know, going away.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to Vice President Pence, just last year, describing you as a traitor on Fox News.
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT MIKE PENCE: Private Manning is a traitor and should not have been turned into a martyr, as Senator Cotton said. Private Manning’s actions compromised our national security, endangered American personnel down range, compromised—compromised individuals in Afghanistan who were cooperating with our forces, by leaking 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: What was your response to Pence saying you endangered people, you know, presumably referring to the redacting of names in the documents that came out in WikiLeaks?
CHELSEA MANNING: I mean, the government’s been using all of this rhetoric for seven years. And for three-and-a-half years, they said it, and then they went—they had to deal with a courtroom, and they couldn’t bring—they couldn’t bring a shred of evidence to the courtroom. Instead, they merely said, “Oh, could have.” It was all hypotheticals. So, these are just talking points. They’re just hot air. It’s been continuing.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read from BuzzFeed. “In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security. But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests.” Chelsea Manning?
CHELSEA MANNING: I mean, that’s what we’ve been saying this whole time. You know, they agreed with us. But instead, during the trial, they said “could have.” It was all about maybe. You know, what crime is it where you could have? You know, if I threw this rock, I could have broken a window. You know, and, of course it wasn’t going to cause any damage.
And the whole notion of national security, it’s a word that gets—it’s a phrase that gets used a lot in politics. But do you know what the definition of “national security” is? The definition of “national security” is that—anything of and relating to the national defense, meaning the military, or foreign relations, meaning the State Department. Anything can be construed as being national security. Those are—that’s an incredibly broad definition. And “interests” is—what is “interests”? Interests is whatever they want. So, if it’s whatever these institutions want, and it’s against their interests, which is against our interests, as people, then it’s a threat to national security. So, in a sense, everyone who goes against them is a threat to national security.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering—subsequent to your revelations, there was the revelations of Edward Snowden, the enormous impact it had on the American public in terms of understanding the surveillance state. Your advice to other people who are in network securities in other parts of the world in terms of potentially being whistleblowers, and the importance of being a whistleblower—
CHELSEA MANNING: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —when you believe that something is unjust or is wrong, that an institution that they’re associated with is committing? What would be your advice to potential whistleblowers?
CHELSEA MANNING: You know, you’re in a better position to understand what the issue is and what you have to do. I can’t give people specific advice. What I can say is that there’s a lot of—and a lot of people in government and a lot of people in these positions already know that there are no safe channels to go through. Like we’ve had—you know, like I have a friend of mine, you know, Jesselyn Radack, who’s been on this show a lot, who has defended people, who have gone through the proper channels, from prosecution and from being targeted. The Insider Threat Program, whenever you—whenever you raise a concern, you are automatically listed under the Insider Threat Program as a potential threat, and placed under surveillance, under electronic surveillance or surveillance by your supervisors. That said, there are no safe channels. You have to make a decision as to what to do. And that’s my advice.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Michael Ratner, the late Michael Ratner, one of the founders of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who appeared on Democracy Now! in 2013, shortly after attending part of your court-martial, when you accepted responsibility for leaking information when leaking documents to WikiLeaks.
MICHAEL RATNER: It was one of the more moving days I’ve ever spent in a courtroom. You’ve heard from Bradley Manning once before, which was when he testified about the torture that happened to him. I was crying through that. This was amazing. I mean, he actually didn’t stand; he sat at the defense table. And he read his 35-page statement, which, sadly, we do not have a copy of, even though there’s nothing classified about that statement. And hopefully we’ll get it, because that is something that should be taught in every school in America.
He went through each of the releases that he took responsibility for, that you mentioned on the air, and he told us why he did it. And in each case, you saw a 22-year-old, a 23-year-old, a person of incredible conscience, saying, “What I’m seeing the United States do is utterly wrong. It’s immoral. The way they’re killing people in Iraq, targeting people for death, rather than working with the population, this is wrong.” And in each of these—each of these statements tells you about how he was doing it politically.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the late Michael Ratner, one of the founding attorneys of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in 2013, coming from your trial and coming on Democracy Now! the next day. Your thoughts on what Michael said? And would you do this again, if you had the chance?
CHELSEA MANNING: Look, I can’t go back and change history. I can’t reflect on every single moment that I’ve gone through my entire life. And I reflect a lot on all kinds of decisions throughout my life, mostly to do with relationships that I’ve had and jobs that I’ve held in the past and decisions that I’ve made, especially in regards to college. Should I have stayed in college? Should I have stayed at Starbuck’s?
That said, this couldn’t have happened any other way. It happened because of who I am and the values that I have and the time that I had and the means, the technology, that was available. And also, it almost didn’t happen. You know, I tried to—I tried to reach out through conventional journalists, if you will. And, you know, the technical complexities, they just couldn’t work around.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait for one second. Could you explain exactly what you did, for people who aren’t familiar with your course? When you were in Iraq, you got a hold of these documents. You saw what you described as the horror documented in the government’s own pages, and wanting to get it out, coming back to the United States. It wasn’t WikiLeaks you went to first.
CHELSEA MANNING: Right. Of course not. I mean, you know, they weren’t a thing yet. There weren’t a name. And, I mean, like I ran out of time. I didn’t have a whole lot of time. I had about 12 days, and three of those days were taken out by a snowstorm.
AMY GOODMAN: Before you were going back to Iraq.
CHELSEA MANNING: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: So you turned to The New York Times. You tried to reach out to them.
CHELSEA MANNING: Well, I reached out to The Washington Post first.
AMY GOODMAN: And they didn’t want the documents, or they did?
CHELSEA MANNING: I mean, it’s technology. Technology is the problem. You know, SecureDrop is something that came out of all of this. It’s now possible to reach out to The Washington Post and use these tools. Journalists didn’t really have an understanding as to the technical problems of the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Why you couldn’t just send it to them—
CHELSEA MANNING: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —by regular email.
CHELSEA MANNING: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: Why Washington Post, did you go to?
CHELSEA MANNING: All the President’s Men.
AMY GOODMAN: Exposing Watergate.
CHELSEA MANNING: Well, that was my reference, was a movie. So…
AMY GOODMAN: Chelsea, one of the issues that we’ve covered for years, when you were in prison, was your battle against the prison authorities around their treatment of you as a trans woman. Talk about what happened, how they treated you and the whole issue of healthcare for trans prisoners around the country.
CHELSEA MANNING: Right. So, systems, like prison and the military and police, treat trans people—I mean, governments do this as a whole. They treat us as an administrative problem, to be solved somehow. And it’s at the whim of some—you know, usually some authority or some legal position that we have our entire lives be policed. You know, there’s what uniforms you wear, what type of clothing you have access to, how much healthcare you get. And these are all determinations that are being made arbitrarily, whether it’s, you know, giving us healthcare and telling us which types of healthcare are available or, you know, what that is. So, the problem is, is that these are systemic problems.
And one of the more deeper systemic problems is the fact that trans people are disproportionately imprisoned. You know, we’re one of the most targeted groups, usually for petty offenses, like sex worker-related offenses and just the—we’re policed based on gender and how we look and how we act—you know, the walking while trans, if you will. And we need to stop—like that needs to be more of a focus, is: Why do we have so many trans people in our prison system? Why do we have so many people who are trans in jail? And, you know, why don’t we focus on dismantling the prison system, that is—in which we’re placed in these situations?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain your own experience, what you were fighting for? You were held in an all-male prison. Is that right? At Fort Leavenworth.
CHELSEA MANNING: Right. And most trans people are held in one of—that differs from their true gender.
AMY GOODMAN: You were fighting for hormone therapy. Talk about that battle and ultimately winning it.
CHELSEA MANNING: I mean, well, I barely won it. You know, I got access to hormones. But, I mean, it was arbitrary. It was based on some signature, you know, and only after a major lawsuit. You know, it wasn’t really a victory, in the sense of, you know, I get access to something, but I had to fight for it. I had to fight tooth and nail for it. And so many people still have to fight to get just basic access, basic access to healthcare, especially in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the clothes you were forced to wear in prison, and also the length of your hair, and why this mattered so much to you?
CHELSEA MANNING: Well, because, I mean, I couldn’t grow my hair. So, I’ve always wanted to grow out my—I’ve always wanted to grow out my hair. It’s always been shortly cropped, but I was kept at a military standard. But it was also the notion of like an institution telling me, “Hey”—you know, because it was like this notion of like, “Yeah, we know you’re pretending to be a woman. So we’re giving you some things, because we’re legally required to do so. But we’re going to make it—we’re going to do everything that we can, in other regards, to make sure that you’re not treated as who you actually are.” So, it’s this notion of value. Like I value who I am, and I value my identity, and as all of us should. And we should be able to defend ourselves and fight back. And that was what drove me, day to day, while I was in these circumstances, and, you know, the clothing and whatever.
But yeah, like, you know, and a lot of this is stuff in the past for me. You know, a lot of this is things that—where I’ve come from. But, you know, I’m more focused on what—I’m more focused on what’s facing us today—
AMY GOODMAN: Right.
CHELSEA MANNING: —what we’re facing right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, certainly, that would be something that trans prisoners are faced with and that you—
CHELSEA MANNING: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —would, hopefully, make a difference in, if you became senator of the United States.
CHELSEA MANNING: I mean, I’m hoping to get trans people out of prison. That’s the objective. It’s not about making conditions better. It’s not about making more or better prisons. It’s about making—closing them down and releasing people. So, we should be releasing trans prisoners.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’ve talked about you looking to get criminal justice reform, anti-military—
CHELSEA MANNING: Not reform, dismantling the criminal—we need to restructure and dismantle the criminal justice system.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dismantling the criminal justice system and ending the military involvements around the world, and also immigration. Could you talk about some of the other issues that you would consider—you’d want the voters to consider when they vote for you?
CHELSEA MANNING: Healthcare. We need to have basic access to healthcare for everyone. And we shouldn’t have our healthcare policed by the state, either. You know, we’ve seen this in—we’ve seen people like go, who are free to go to hospitals, because of who they are or what their background is or what their legal status is. So, we need to remove—we need to provide healthcare for everybody. It should be free. It should be accessible. It should be—and there should be a doctor-patient relationship that is unaffected by—you know, the state should not be intervening into the—you know, into who you are and why. You know, you should just be getting access.
AMY GOODMAN: Healthcare for all.
CHELSEA MANNING: Healthcare for all, but unconditionally. It’s not—you don’t have to fill out forms or get—or have the state police you based on—you know, like you should feel safe to go to a hospital or to get healthcare.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your activism around anti-fascism, and also how you’re going to conduct your campaign? The primary is coming up soon. It’s in June. What are you going to do to run throughout Maryland to get your name out there and your positions out there, throughout the state? Not that your name isn’t known, but as a senator for Maryland.
CHELSEA MANNING: So, yeah, so I’ve been—I’ve been, you know, meeting with activists and organizers locally. I’ve been more on a listening tour, because I want to hear their—what they have to say, what their positions are, what the concerns are, and—before I started to publicly, you know, like roll out there. Obviously, you have to file pretty early in the Maryland primary. So, a lot of the work is going to come over the next few months. And being on this program is a part of that. So, I would say that my activism and who—and like how I’m running are hand in hand. I mean, I’m running as an activist. Like this is—like, I’m not running to have a career as a senator. I’m here as a continuation of my career as an activist who pushes against these systemic problems and these systemic structures. You know, I’m not willing to get entrenched into the circle of lobbying and the network of, you know, revolving-door politics.
I mean, I’ve already been excluded. You know, the language that they use excludes me, by default. You know, the I’m not—you know, I’m inexperienced, or I’m—you know, think about that for a second, inexperienced. Like what—like Ben Cardin has been in politics, Maryland politics, for 40 years. He’s been behind a desk that whole time. What experience can he bring to the table? I mean, I have life experience. I’ve been out there. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been to prison. I’ve been to war. These are what I consider experience. So, we need to start pushing back. And the way we do that is by focusing on the systemic problems, like the criminal justice system, immigration and healthcare.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you do with the prisons of the United States?
CHELSEA MANNING: We need to start closing them. We need to start closing prisoners—we need to start releasing prisoners and then closing prisons down. No more of—we should put a moratorium on construction, first off, and then start closing prisons.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of immigration, what would you do?
CHELSEA MANNING: Abolish ICE. Abolish the CBP.
AMY GOODMAN: And our borders?
CHELSEA MANNING: I mean, borders are imaginary lines. They’re something that we draw, you know, through the middle of a desert. We invented the border. It wasn’t there previously. People should be able to move freely about the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you abolish the NSA? Your state, Maryland, the state you’d represent as senator, represents the largest intelligence agency in the world—
CHELSEA MANNING: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —far, far larger, for example, than the CIA—the National Security Agency, where you were actually court-martialed.
CHELSEA MANNING: Right. You know, and the National Security Agency collects an enormous amount of data and information. But it’s more of these policing agencies that I’m focused on. You know, ICE is—ICE has more law enforcement power than any other federal law enforcement agency. And it’s only a matter of time. And we’ve already seen people who are assisting, you know, people crossing the border and assisting people that, you know, be arrested and charged with federal offenses. They’re going to expand the net of their federal law enforcement powers over the next few years. They’ve already said that they’re going to do this. ICE didn’t exist 15—or ICE didn’t exist 18 years ago. It’s a brand-new institution. It didn’t exist whenever I was a teenager. It should go away. We don’t need ICE. We don’t need a lot of these gigantic, you know, police agencies that are singularly focused on deporting people.
AMY GOODMAN: If you were a senator of the United States, and even as not as senator of the United States, as an activist, what are you pushing for when it comes to the military?
CHELSEA MANNING: We spend 600—we spend almost $600 billion a year on our defense budget. And there’s various other portions that go into the paramilitary portions of our government. We need to spend this money somewhere else. It needs to be—you know, we have other issues. We don’t need to have 800 bases all across the world. We don’t need to have the—we already have the largest system in the world. We don’t need more. And they’re always asking for more. Isn’t that funny? Like, it’s already the largest. We’re already spending $600 billion a year. And yet, you know, it’s on boondoggle projects, like the F-35, you know? We’re going to stop that. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that defense funding bills for more stuff don’t happen.
AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope, as we wrap up this interview?
CHELSEA MANNING: What gives me hope is the people I have to my left and right, the people that I’m in solidarity with, when I’m—especially when I’m doing activism, and especially whenever I’m in these meetings, the people who have been with me this whole time, the people who are fighting with me and the people that I know will be by my side, whatever happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Army whistleblower and trans activist Chelsea Manning, freed from military prison after seven years last May. Her 35-year sentence was commuted by President Obama. She’s now running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Maryland. Go to democracynow.org for Part 1 of our exclusive interview. It was the full broadcast yesterday.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, charges will not be brought against the two white officers who killed Alton Sterling. We’ll speak with his children’s lawyers. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “These Stars Collide” by Cleveland, Ohio, band Mourning [A] BLKstar, performing here in our Democracy Now! studios. To hear the full performance, go to democracynow.org.