Chelsea Manning is free: celebrating her and our victory

By Hanna Demel, Queer Strike and Benoit Martin, Payday men’s network

Once again, Queer Strike and Payday are inviting the public to take action for transgender woman whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Chelsea Manning

This time, however, it’s to celebrate her release from prison on Wednesday 17 May.  Her initial 35-year sentence for disclosing classified information on war crimes and corruption was commuted by former President Obama (who had prejudiced the original case in 2011) after she had already served seven years.

On International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we will gather at 5.30pm at St.Martin-in-the-Fields in London (next to Trafalgar Square) to mark this ultimate victory of a seven-year campaign. At 7pm, Peace News will have a party at Housmans Bookshop.

Other actions will take place in at least 20 town and cities – from Auckland, New Zealand to Berlin, Dublin and San Francisco.

Some commentators have said the commutation was a “gift” from President Obama. It was not.

It was the culmination of relentless campaigns by Chelsea, her legal team and an international network of supporters. 

International campaigns got Chelsea out of Quantico, where she was detained in 2010 under torturous conditions, including  humiliating daily strip search.

Similar campaigns forced the military to drop the charge of “aiding the enemy” with its potential capital punishment and later won her rights as a transgender woman in jail, including hormone therapy.

For seven years, there were petitions, meetings and protests by multiple groups and individuals. People packed the courts, while others demonstrated in front of US embassies.  International days of action brought together hundreds in tens of countries and thousands in the US.

The Chelsea Manning Support Network collected $1.5 million from 25,000 individuals in the years leading up to and during Chelsea’s trial in 2013.  

Why was the support for Chelsea so vital that it became unshakeable?

Firstly, the information Chelsea made available was invaluable. The gratuitous murders and rapes of civilians by the US military and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan were laid bare – some soldiers became refuseniks as a result. Tunisians learned about dictator Ben Ali’s corruption sparking the Arab Spring. The people of Haiti got proof of US government’s interference against increasing the obscenely low minimum wage in their country. Palestinians learned that Israel consulted with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority before the 2008 devastation of Gaza. And so on.

Secondly, Chelsea’s determination was an encouragement for many, in particular the lgbtq+ and whistleblower movements. As a high profile transgender woman, her going on hunger strike and surviving solitary punishment, has strengthened the visibility and power of  transgender communities. And  she really put  the movement of whistleblowers on the map. Edward Snowden has acknowledged she encouraged him to do what he did.

Through campaigning for Chelsea, we met Eileen Chubb, founder of Compassion in Care and a care home whistleblower. She has supported several thousands of whistleblowers in the UK.  These have disclosed abuse and corruption in hospitals, detention centres, social services, care homes, banks, etc. and have been persecuted for their courageous action, losing jobs, income, relationships.

In supporting Compassion in Care’s demand for “Edna’s Law”, legislation that would protect whistleblowers and make it a criminal offence not to investigate their genuine concerns, we are continuing the work Chelsea started seven years ago and whistleblowers before her.

It is also urgent to defend Wikileaks who made public Chelsea’s disclosures. The US attorney general has declared the arrest of its founder Julian Assange is now a “priority”, at a time when Trump is making torture “legal”. So there is much still to do.  But let us meanwhile celebrate the sweet victory of Chelsea’s freedom.

Who is Chelsea Manning?

Transgender army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, arrested in 2010 and convicted to 35 years in jail for leaking information exposing US & other countries war crimes, was pardoned in 2017 by President Obama. Find out about those years of campaigning that brought about this victory. In particular, we worked with Queer Strike in San Francisco who brought the Pride Board to elect Chelsea as Grand Marshal of the SF Pride parade. Read the joint statement Payday & Queer Strike issued on her release and GWS Selma James’ article on Chelsea’s legacy to the movement of whistleblowers.