In a Fort Leavenworth cell block, Chelsea Manning — the Oklahoma-born U.S. Army soldier who released the largest-ever trove of classified government documents to the public via Wikileaks in 2010 — turns 27 today, serving out the second year of her 35-year sentence under the Espionage Act.
As reported by the Guardian, a laundry list of artists, philosophers and politicians have penned letters to Manning, thanking her for her service. Fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden wrote, “You have inspired an angry public to demand a government that is accountable for its perpetration of torture and other war crimes, for the true costs of its wars, and for conspiring in corruption around the world.”
Perhaps more than any other two people in the last century, Snowden and Manning — with the help of investigative journalists like Glenn Greenwald — have thrown a wrench in the course of a rambling 13-years-and-counting war in the Middle East, prompting a national conversation about the role and very definition of privacy and security in the United States.
Last week’s landmark torture report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the CIA, is a testament to their work, and shows a military giant put on the defensive by two acts of incredible bravery. Manning, in particular, handed over files that blew open the extent of U.S. military abuses of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with a host of other abuses that include the war’s first ever official civilian death count.
Even as the anti-war movement has since faded from its heights in the mid-2000s, secrets unearthed as a result of Wikileaks have forced the media to keep a watchful eye on a war that’s become disturbingly easy to forget is still being waged, and the United States’ continually unhinged approach to foreign policy. The Iraq War Logs gave us a small, unsettling taste of what lay within the tome of a 6000-page report: that U.S. prisoner abuses were not only more brutal than the public knew, but also a near-completely ineffective means of extracting information, with a chain of command that stretches up to the Oval Office.
By well-wishing Chelsea Manning today, we can celebrate her resistance, and mourn the fact that it’s so necessary.
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