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Society, Politics & Law

Chelsea Manning: An OpenLearn reading list

Updated Wednesday, 18th January 2017

As one of the last acts of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence and she will be released from prison within weeks. We've dipped into some of the background to her case

A protest calling for a pardon for Chelsea Manning Creative commons image Icon Stephen Melkisethian under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license A 2014 protest demands a pardon for Chelsea Manning

What was the Chelsea Manning case about?

There's a quick guide to in our free course on Cybersecurity:

Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning) was a United States Army soldier who leaked confidential information, including 250,000 United States diplomatic messages and 500,000 United States Army reports as well as videos of military action in Iraq, to the WikiLeaks website.

Manning obtained copies of classified materials during service in Iraq in 2009, copying them directly to a data CD disguised as a music disc, from which the materials were transferred to a laptop and then to the WikiLeaks servers for dissemination.

The reports were widely published around the world and caused enormous diplomatic embarrassment for the United States government. Manning was eventually identified after confessing in an online chat to Adrian Lamo, who informed the Army. Manning was charged with 22 offences, including that of aiding the enemy, and pleaded guilty to 10 charges. She was found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in military prison.

Explore the cyberscurity course

What has Obama done?

The New York Times explains Obama's reduction in Chelsea Manning's sentence:

Under the terms of the commutation announced by the White House on Tuesday, Ms. Manning is set to be freed on May 17 of this year rather than in 2045. A senior administration official said the 120-day delay was part of a standard transition period for commutations to time served, and was designed to allow for such steps as finding a place for Ms. Manning to live after her release.

The commutation also relieved the Defense Department of the difficult responsibility of Ms. Manning’s incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience providing.

Read at the New York Times: Chelsea Manning to Be Released Early as Obama Commutes Sentence

What did Manning reveal?

For Yamuna Sangarasivam, Manning's leaks were a strike against an over-reaching state:

The montage of classified documents revealed by Pvt. Manning and WikiLeaks iflustrates how censorship, secrecy, and surveillance as tools of the national security apparatus serve not only as an economic signal, as Assange asserts, but these tools serve as a cultural signal of a dystopic democracy that celebrates the use of torture and the violation of constitutional and fundamental human rights as a symbol of US patriotism and imperialism. As a "chronotope of revolution"—"a montage of transformations that amalgamates contraries, oppositions, disparities"—the cyber rebellion of WikiLeaks against censorship and the abuse of human rights exposes the strategically hidden realities of state-sponsored terrorisms that drives a dystopic democracy.

Read the full article at  Perspectives on Global Development and Technology: Cyber Rebellion: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Struggle to Break the Power of Secrecy in the Global War on Terror*

Listen: Tim Berners-Lee on Wikileaks

How damaging were the leaks?

While many supported Manning and Wikileaks for making the data public, prosecutors and others insisted that her actions had damaged the US, and put lives at risk. The Associated Press reports:

From the highest levels of the U.S. government, civilian and military leaders argued that Manning had violated pledges made to get his top secret clearance, potentially endangered U.S. agents, and made classified information accessible to America's enemies.

"Some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so," said Hillary Rodham Clinton while serving as secretary of state when Manning released classified diplomatic cables.

Read at NPR: From Obscurity, Manning Became Polarizing Symbol

Who is unhappy at Obama's actions?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Obama's opponents in Congress have reacted angrily to the decision to reduce Chelsea Manning's sentence. Politico gathered some responses:

"When I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Private Manning was undermining us by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement. "I don't understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers, and allies. We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr."

"This is just outrageous. Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets," said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). "President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”

“I’m stunned," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said. "President Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence is a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline. It also devalues the courage of real whistle-blowers who have used proper channels to hold our government accountable."

Read at Politico: Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence

A one minute guide to Aristotle's views on justice

What did the Manning leak mean for US foreign policy?

Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, writing in Foreign Affairs, suggested that the knowledge that secrecy might be a thing of the past should lead to a remaking of state behaviour:

Manning's and [Edward] Snowden's leaks mark the beginning of a new era in which the U.S. government can no longer count on keeping its secret behavior secret. Hundreds of thousands of Americans today have access to classified documents that would embarrass the country if they were publicly circulated. As the recent revelations show, in the age of the cell-phone camera and the flash drive, even the most draconian laws and reprisals will not prevent this information from leaking out. As a result, Washington faces what can be described as an accelerating hypocrisy collapse -- a dramatic narrowing of the country's room to maneuver between its stated aspirations and its sometimes sordid pursuit of self-interest. The U.S. government, its friends, and its foes can no longer plausibly deny the dark side of U.S. foreign policy and will have to address it head-on.

Read the full article: The End of Hypocrisy

Read the OU's Ray Corrigan on The four horsemen of the infocalypse

How did newspapers report Chelsea Manning's gender identity?

Chelsea Manning's announcement of her desire to be identified as female sparked a discussion in the US media, and beyond, about how to refer to her. Writing in the Journal Of Homosexuality, Andrea M. Hackl, Amy B. Becker & Maureen E. Todd explored how far newspapers responded to her request:

Taking a closer look at the dataset, 82 of the 197 relevant articles appeared in U.S. newspapers, while 115 were from international papers. Overall, articles published in both U.S. and international papers were significantly more likely to refer to “Bradley” (U.S.: 102 times; international: 141 times) compared to “Chelsea” (U.S.: 70 times; international: 85). Again, only a few U.S. journalists found it necessary to discuss the private’s biological gender, with 16 items referring to “formerly Bradley”; the same dynamic was present in the international coverage with 25 references to “formerly Bradley.” Results also suggest that with respect to the use of gender pronouns, representation in U.S. newspapers was consistent with the international discourse.

While male pronouns such as he or his were used 433 times in U.S. coverage and 550 in international coverage, female pronouns such as she or her were used only 65 times by U.S. papers (compared to 80 references in the international coverage). Again, “Mr.” and Ms.” were only infrequently used.

While “Mr. Manning” was referred to 17 times in the United States and nine internationally, the title “Ms.” was used in only two cases in the United States and was used once by the international press. Comparing the representation of Chelsea Manning in both international and U.S. newspapers also reveals a change in depiction over time

. For both the international and the U.S. press, references to “Bradley” peaked on August 23 (with 44 and 33 references, respectively).

Read the research at the the Journal of Homosexuality: “I Am Chelsea Manning”: Comparison of Gendered Representation of Private Manning in U.S. and International News Media*

Read at OpenLearn: 57 genders (and none for me?)

Did the I Am Bradley Manning campaign erase the person they were championing?

Supporters of Private Manning campaigned online for clemency - but there were problematic aspects to the I Am Bradley Manning campaign, observed Jules Wight in QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking:

There are a number of particularities to the “I am” metaphor in social media that make the I am Bradley Manning campaign distinct. For one, few of these campaigns involve a metaphor of one individual being another particular individual. The two exceptions noted above include the original “I am” metaphor of “We are all Khaled Said” and the later metaphor of “I am Trayvon Martin.” In the case of Khaled Said, the metaphor is that of many to one—a metaphor of group solidarity toward the murder of one individual and an acknowledgement that what the state did to Said could have been done to any other Egyptian civilian.

In the case of Trayvon Martin, the metaphor is of one individual to one individual, as with I am Bradley Manning. However, the Trayvon Martin metaphor is an acknowledgement of—or protest against—the racism that many saw as the cause of Martin’s murder. The metaphor allows for the possibility that any non-white individual could have had their life taken in the same way as Martin and in that way provides opportunities for solidarity. Given these two examples, there are at least three primary differences between those metaphors and the I am Bradley Manning metaphor.

First, Manning’s situation is not one that could realistically happen to any other similar group of people. For example, not all white enlisted soldiers would be subject to physical and psychological state brutality and legal bullying. Such an example erases the actions that Chelsea Manning took upon herself as a soldier and citizen to do something she felt was ethical and necessary.

Second, it also erases Manning’s individuality and the life experiences that may have contributed to her decision. Such particular life experiences include her gradual understanding of her sexuality, gender identity, and the private and public struggles she experienced to reach those understandings. By using the metaphor of being Bradley (or Chelsea) Manning, we erase an individual and her/his difference—or at least ignore it for as long as is tolerable in the maintenance of perceived similarity.

Third,[...] the use of the metaphor in I am Bradley Manning is contained in a fragmented campaign that subtly strips meaning from individual metaphorical statements. In the process, potentials for the campaign to become a movement of solidarity and potentials for coalition building are inhibited.

Read the full article at Saving Private Manning? On Erasure and the Queer in the I Am Bradley Manning Campaign*

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