Chelsea Manning, the Army private who spent seven years behind bars and was convicted of disclosing classified government information to WikiLeaks, said she felt compelled to leak information because of “a responsibility to the public.”
In her first televised interview since walking out of the barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Manning told ABC News that she takes responsibility for her decisions.
“No one told me to do this, nobody directed me to do this,” Manning told the network in the interview, a portion of which aired Friday on “Good Morning America.” “This is me. It’s on me.”
While serving as an Army intelligence analyst, Manning was arrested in May 2010 after sending WikiLeaks a collection of materials that included scores of documents, video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed two journalists, about 250,000 State Department cables and other information. In 2013, Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy but was found guilty of espionage, resulting in the sentence of 35 years in prison.
Manning said she did not think her leaks would threaten national security.
“You’re getting all this information and its just death, destruction, mayhem,” she told ABC News. “And eventually, you just stop, I stopped seeing just statistics and information and I started seeing people.”
She added: “I have a responsibility to the public. We all have a responsibility.”
The new interview with Manning arrives days after the Trump administration, which has railed against leaks, announced its first public criminal charges in a leak case, arresting Reality Winner, a government contractor in Georgia, and accusing her of sending classified information to a news organization.
Manning entered federal custody as a male Army private named Bradley. Not long after being sentenced, Manning — who was held at an all-male prison — announced that she was a transgender woman and planned to seek hormone therapy.
“I had to be who I am,” she said in the new interview. Manning said the treatment is “literally what keeps me alive, what keeps me from feeling like I’m in the wrong body.” Before the treatment began, she recalled feeling like she wanted to “rip my body apart.”
In January, Manning was among those granted commutations during Obama’s final days in office. Obama’s administration was particularly tough on government leakers, but he had also advocated for overall reforms to the country’s sentencing practices. Obama commuted her sentence in January, saying that she would be set free in May, rather than in 2045.
A day after Manning’s commutation was announced, Obama defended the decision during a news conference at the White House.
“Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” he said, adding later: “It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime. … I feel very comfortable that justice has been served.”
President Trump was critical of Obama’s decision, calling Manning an “ungrateful traitor” in a tweet days after taking office, an apparent reference to a Guardian column Manning wrote arguing for “a strong and unapologetic progressive to lead us” and saying that Obama, in seeking compromise, ultimately left behind “very few permanent accomplishments.”
In the ABC News interview, Manning was asked what she would say to Obama, and she quickly grew emotional.
“Thank you,” she said. “Another chance, it’s all I wanted … that’s all I asked for, was a chance. That’s it. And this is my chance.”
When asked about critics who call her a traitor — a group that includes Trump — Manning had a simple response.
“I’m just me,” Manning said. “It’s as simple as that.”