Earlier this week, transgender Army Private Chelsea Manning was released from the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, following former President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her sentence for leaking classified military information.
Upon her release from prison, Manning released her first photo on her Twitter page and Instagram, and issued a statement expressing her relief at being a free woman.
“After another anxious four months of waiting, the day has finally arrived. I am looking forward to so much!” she said in the statement. “Whatever is ahead of me is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now — which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me.”
Manning became the darling of liberals and the anti-war movement after she released more than 700,000 government files containing sensitive information about civilian casualties of American military actions abroad. Claiming to be a “whistleblower,” Manning sent those files to the cyber-anarchist government watchdog website Wikileaks, which published videos, diplomatic cables, and other correspondence relating to U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning was later sentenced to 35 years in prison, a punishment that her lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union argued was too harsh compared to other whistleblowers. They also argued that her prosecution under the Espionage Act violated the Constitution because it results in prosecutions where a court gives no consideration to the public interest, and allows the government to selectively prosecute disfavored or unpopular speakers.
Manning, who transitioned while in prison, frequently clashed with the Department of Defense regarding its reticence to treat her according to her gender identity, even though she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. She sued the department over its refusal to allow her to receive treatment and special considerations to accommodate her gender dysphoria, including requests for hormones and to grow her hair out beyond the prescribed length for male prisoners at the barracks.
For her defiance, Manning was also subjected to long stretches in solitary confinement and even attempted suicide. Eventually, the government agreed to allow her to receive hormones, and eventually, following a hunger strike, gender confirmation surgery.
Prior to Manning’s release, some conservative blogs had angrily speculated that Manning, who is still considered on active duty, per a U.S. Army spokesman, would take advantage of her medical benefits, thereby forcing taxpayers to pay the cost of her gender confirmation surgery. However, on Wednesday, her lawyers said she would not use the health benefits she was entitled to as a military member.
“Because of the nature of her circumstances and the experience of confinement, she is very committed to living her life as free from the government as possible and taking care of her own health benefits and financial needs, separate and apart from the continued benefits available to her,” Manning’s attorney Chase Strangio told Fox News.
“It is incredible to witness Chelsea Manning’s freedom after having seen and worked with her behind bars for four years. We can all finally truly celebrate the strength and heroism she has shown in surviving and sharing her truth and life with all of us,” he said. ‘Through extended periods of solitary confinement and up against the government’s insistence on denying her medical care and existence as a woman, Chelsea has emerged with grace, resilience, and an inspiring amount of love for others. I am humbled to fight alongside such a fierce advocate for justice.”