Chelsea Manning Reveals Why She Leaked Secret Military Documents in First Interview Since Release

Chelsea Manning first interview
First the first time since her release from prison, Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army soldier responsible for a massive leak of classified material, talks about why she did it. Chelsea Manning/CC BY-SA

Chelsea Manning has spoken for the first time since her release from prison in May, after serving seven years for leaking secret U.S. military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks during the Iraq War.

In an interview with ABC News 's Nightline co-anchor Juju Chang, Manning said she leaked nearly 1 million classified and sensitive documents because "I have a responsibility to the public."

Government officials criticized the release of the documents, accusing the leaker of aiding extremists in the War on Terror, instigated by former President George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks. The documents revealed that the U.S. failed to investigate serial detainee abuse and torture by Iraqi police and soldiers, as well as 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths in the war, some at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

Manning's diplomatic cable leaks revealed that the U.S. and Britain spied on U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as the Bush administration made its case for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has credited the documents with sparking the 2011 Arab Spring.

Manning said that the counterinsurgency warfare conducted in Iraq is "not as simple as good guys versus bad guys" and that she was dismayed by what she was seeing as an intelligence analyst.

Read more: Why Chelsea Manning's release will make us all safer

"We're getting all this information from all these different sources and it's just death, destruction, mayhem," she said. "We're filtering it all through facts, statistics, reports, dates, times, locations, and eventually you just stop. I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people."

Manning told Chang that she felt compelled to leak the documents in the public interest because the channels for raising her concerns with senior officials "are there, but they don't work."

Manning, a transgender woman, was arrested as Bradley Manning shortly after handing the documents to Wikileaks in 2010. She was convicted to 35 years in prison under the Espionage Act by a military court in 2013. That same year, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

In the interview, Manning addressed her experiences in the military and in prison, saying her hormone treatment "literally…keeps me alive… [It] keeps me from feeling like I'm in the wrong body."

She also said she accepted responsibility for her actions: "No one told me to do this. No one directed me to do this. This is me, it's on me."

As he prepared to leave office, former President Barack Obama commuted a majority of Manning's sentence, stating that her punishment was "very disproportionate to what other leakers have received." Even so, Manning has served the longest sentence for leaking in U.S. history.

Manning said she had not spoken to Obama since she was released on May 17 but wanted to thank him. "I've been given a chance," she said. "That's all I asked for was a chance. That's it, and now this is my chance."

A "welcome-home" fund for Manning launched early this year raised $100,000 to give the 29-year-old some financial stability upon her release from prison. And a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union has brought on Manning's behalf, to completely overturn her conviction, remains before the courts.