Chelsea Manning walked out of a military prison on Wednesday, following President Barack Obama’s commutation of her 35-year sentence for leaking classified information.
She served just seven years of that sentence, which came following her arrest and conviction of passing secret intelligence documents to WikiLeaks.
Much of Manning’s court martial centered around one contentious charge – aiding the enemy – for which she faced life in prison.
Here’s what happened at trial:
- Manning pleaded guilty to many of the charges. In February 2013, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges and offered an impassioned defense of her actions. She claimed she wanted to shed light on a culture obsessed with “killing and capturing people.” She waived a jury trail. In March, Manning opted to allow a military judge, Col. Denise Lind, decide her fate, rather than face the wrath of a military jury. Her statement defending her actions was also leaked in March. Manning said that her decision to disclose classified information centered on wanting to expose “the bloodlust” of U.S. forces. Osama Bin Laden allegedly read the information Manning leaked. This detail is a key component in the prosecution’s contention that Manning provided aid to the enemy. Capt. Joe Morrow, one of three prosecuting attorneys, said that Navy SEALs recoveredseveral items of digital media from Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011.WikiLeaks arguably performed a “legitimate journalistic function.” This argument came from defense expert and Harvard Law professor Yochai Benkler, who was the final witness for the defense. This argument speaks to the defense’s key objective to refute charges of wanton misconduct or providing aid to the enemy. She never took the stand. Manning declined to testify in her own defense. The judge refused to drop the most serious charge. Col. Denise Lind said that Manning would indeed face charges of aiding the enemy, saying the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to consider it. The defense had fought for those charges to be dropped. There were accusations of journalist intimidation. Independent journalist Alexa O’Brien told Democracy Now that armed guards roamed the aisles in the courtroom and peer over the shoulders of reporters every five minutes. The prosecution painted Manning as an anarchist and traitor. In closing arguments, Maj. Ashden Fein said, “Pfc. Manning was not a humanist; he was a hacker. He was not a whistle-blower. He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it.”The defense said Manning’s ‘sole purpose’ was to make a difference. Her lawyer insisted during closing arguments last week that her client had good intentions. “Is Manning somebody who is a traitor with no loyalty to this country or the flag, who wanted to download as much information as possible for his employer WikiLeaks? Or is he a young, naive, well-intentioned soldier who has his humanist belief central to his decisions and whose sole purpose was to make a difference,” he said.
In late July 2013, Manning was acquitted of “aiding the enemy,” but ultimately convicted on 19 other charges.